goldfish: a lesson in pet-owning

A few weeks ago I went back to Ohio because my cousin was getting married. She had a very nice, very small wedding at a tiny church near where we live, and a casual, low-key reception at an even tinier lodge in the woods nearby. She had these really cute but utterly impractical centerpieces on all the tables that looked like they came straight out of Pinterest. I didn’t realize at the time how ridiculously impractical they were until I decided to take one home, and after being in the car for a few hours I quickly changed my mind from “aww what a nice party favor!” to “what a dick move to make your guests feel inclined to adopt a new fucking pet at your wedding.”

The centerpieces looked like this:

I stole this picture from here, and the photo was originally taken by The Memory Journalists…hopefully none of these people see this post and get upset that I’m making fun of their wedding decorations. But seriously. I get the appeal of these centerpieces — it’s a fairly novel idea and brings a certain unique flair to the reception that I’m sure is lacking in so many cookie-cutter wedding parties. And goldfish are cheap as hell, so it’s a small investment for some pretty table flair and a discussion piece for all of your guests. Plus, they get to adopt a fish if they want!

But who the fuck wants a goldfish anyway? And what do you do with all of the sad, unadopted goldfish at the end of the night? Flush them down the toilet is my guess, but it seems cruel to me to discard a bunch of living creatures like that just for the sake of a nice wedding decoration.

I think I was the only person at my cousin’s wedding who was stupid enough to take one of these centerpieces. I don’t have any pets, and Gretchen and I have talked about getting fish ever since we moved in, but we just never really got around to it because we’re both lazy and don’t have faith in our ability to be attentive to a fish tank. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I really miss having a pet, but I know that what I really want is a dog, and obviously a fish is a lame-ass substitute for man’s best friend.

What do fish bring to the table? You have to clean their tanks and feed them and spend money pimping them out with mermaid statues and water plants and pineapples under the sea, and what do they give you in return? Nothing. They just fucking swim around. You can’t hold them or pet them, and you can’t even fucking talk to them because they’re underwater so they can’t hear you. What’s the point?

You pretty much have to buy a pineapple if you have a fish tank. (photo stolen from here)

When I was a freshman in college, one of the fraternities on campus bought a whole bunch of goldfish to give away to freshmen at the Student Activities Fair. My roommate got one, and since she didn’t have a car I had to drive her to the pet store off campus to buy a bowl and food for it. Did you guys know that goldfish are not supposed to be kept in a fish bowl? Well, neither did we until this pet store worker got all up in our faces about it.

My roommate insisted that she had a goldfish at home that had survived for seven years in a fish bowl, but this pet store guy was not having it. Apparently goldfish are supposed to get pretty big and are also one of the dirtiest fish, so you’re really supposed to put them in a large tank with a filter, and even then you’re supposed to change the water often because I guess they shit so much that it’s easy for them to get infections and stuff if you leave them for more than a few days in their own waste-water. The pet store guy got really self-righteous about it, asking where we got the fish and getting outraged when she told him that a fraternity was giving them away for free.

“They told me they had a hundred-gallon tank!” he said angrily, knowing that he, like many others before and after him, had been duped by the Sigs.

This guy was steadfast, though. He refused to sell us the small fish bowl, claiming that to put a goldfish in it would be “inhumane.” We weren’t willing to buy a larger tank because a) we were broke college kids, and b) we lived in a fucking dorm room and weren’t about to set up a twenty gallon fish tank for a goldfish that we’d probably be too drunk to remember to take care of anyway. So we left empty handed, and went to Wal-mart where no one gives a fuck what you put in the fish bowl. Incidentally, the fish died the next day, but we’re pretty sure this was because my roommate rather violently dumped him into his new fish bowl home, not because he was adverse to the size of the damn bowl.

SON OF A! Apparently they can get PRETTY BIG outside of a fish bowl.

I remembered all of this when I let my mom convince me to take a goldfish centerpiece home from my cousin’s wedding, but I chose to block it out of my mind because the fish were pretty, and I needed something to fill the petless void in my life. Each centerpiece had two goldfish, so Gretchen and I could each have one, and my mom just happened to have an empty fish bowl lying around at the house, so why not? I carefully scrutinized every centerpiece to select the healthiest, coolest looking fish, and settled on a standard-looking gold one paired with one with black accents on his fins and belly. I carried the glass cup carefully to my car and stuck it in the cup holder, promising myself I would drive the speed limit on my three and a half hour trek back to Indy.

Around the second hour I started to worry about the fish. Would the movement of the car jostle them too much, traumatizing them like my roommate’s fish who couldn’t live through the tiny waterfall transition from a plastic bag to a fish bowl? Would they get too hot in the 90+ degree weather? Would they get too cold if I turned on the AC? When was the last time they had been fed? They were probably starving, after being ogled at while everyone else got to eat a delicious dinner and cake. I decided to stop at Target to buy some fish food, and was more than a little perturbed when the jar of goldfish flakes cost me $10.00. These fish were already turning out to be more of an investment than I wanted.

Miraculously, though, the fish survived the long drive home. When I got home I immediately started googling goldfish care, hoping to find anything to counteract my suspicions that they weren’t going to last in a cheap fish bowl. Most of what I found on the internet confirmed what my roommate and I had learned from the haughty pet store guy: goldfish produce more waste than any fish, and therefore should ideally be put in a large tank with a filter. Some sites even recommended treating the water and buying medicine as a backup, in case the goldfish get sick from swimming around in their own poo. But I did find one site that said that if you’re diligent about changing the water every few days, you can keep a goldfish alive in a fish bowl. It recommended getting a small filter that goes underneath the rocks at the bottom of the bowl. I’d settle for that.

Can you tell I was excited about the fish? And yes, I considered naming one after myself.

When I got home from work on Monday and found that the fish were still alive and seemingly alert, I sprinkled some fish flakes into their bowl and headed down to The Reef, which is a fish store just a few blocks from my apartment. I pondered the fish bowl accessories for a while, selecting a cheap net to use to move the fish when it was time to change the water. I mentally noted to buy some pebbles and a sexy mermaid, and moved over to look at the filters. I couldn’t find the type that the website had recommended, so I shyly approached the woman at the counter to ask if they carried them. She said she had heard of them and that they sometimes carried them, but she wasn’t sure when they would be in stock again.

Then she started to ask questions about what type of fish I had and what kind of tank I was keeping them in. When I confessed that they were goldfish, she gave the same information that the haughty pet store guy had condescended to me and my roommate. She was a lot nicer about it, but she still managed to make me feel guilty.

“Goldfish are supposed to grow to be pretty large, so you really can’t keep them in a bowl,” she said.

“Don’t they just grow to whatever their surroundings are?” I asked. That was one of the things I had read, and something I had always heard about certain types of fish, frogs, and other creatures that you can keep in a tank.

“Well, yeah…but if you take a human child and shove it in a closet, it will only grow to its surroundings, too.”

I blinked at her.

“Really, if you’re trying to keep a fish in a bowl, the best type to get would be a Beta. In the wild, they actually live in a puddle in the jungle, so they prefer a smaller habitat. We have some, if you want to look. We get more on Thursday if you want to come back then.”

“Do you know anyone who wants two goldfish?” I asked, defeated.

So I managed to keep the goldfish alive for three whole days without a filter, but in the end I gave up and donated them to The Reef where they probably became food for some larger more exotic fish. I briefly entertained the idea of getting a Beta fish, but it just wouldn’t be the same after all my visions of the dynamic goldfish duo.

Back to square one: lazy and petless. My ivy plant is doing pretty well, though.


4 thoughts on “goldfish: a lesson in pet-owning

  1. lol, i’ve never really understood the point of having fish as a pet… they’re not snuggly. and that sounds like entirely too much work. and kind of mean of your cousin. but the story was funny. =]

  2. Haha I’m one of those people who encourages people to get a tank with a filter for a goldfish. They get all their oxygen from the surrounding water and if it’s polluted and not being changed, it’s basically like a human living in a coffin and slowly running out of air to breathe. The lady is right though, Bettas can actually pull oxygen from the air so even if their water is dirty they can still breathe. I know all this because my husband (back many years ago when he was my boyfriend) bought me goldfish and a little tank so I’d have company when he went off to the Army, and because I’m a nerd.

    Anyway, I loved reading your story about this, because I’m on board with how ridiculous goldfish are as pets in general. haha

  3. I’m going to have disposable kittens at my wedding.

    I mean what the fuck are these people thinking? Good on you for trying, but I agree, fish are kind of lame expensive pets. It’s all work and no payback.

  4. In defense of the people who have weddings and use goldfish as centerpieces, I am having them at my wedding. We have a 250 gal pond in our back yard with a giant Oscar fish in it. After the wedding if nobody sincerely wants the goldfish we will put them into the pond (which we do anyways because that’s what he eats). As far as them being cool for pets, if i was giving advice on pet options. Get a cat. They are the easiest pet you can really get as long as they are indoor/outdoor. They will give you all the affection you want but are perfectly content to occupy themselves and do their own thing. This is coming from somebody with dogs, cats, fish, birds, a turtle, and a hamster. Good luck to you and I hope that you find your perfect pet someday.

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