We bought the girls their first pet. And by “we” I mean that I talked Zach into it. “It’s just a Betta fish! They’re cheap!” I said. “Low maintenance!” I said. “The whole thing will be like maybe fifteen bucks!” I said.
I bought my first (and last) Betta fish when I was in nursing school. My roommate and I each bought one. She also owned a seriously violent and mentally ill cat, so the only safe place we had to put their tiny fish tanks was on top of our microwave. We named them Hanford and Chernobyl.
Hanford – mine – lived for about 3 years in his tiny 0.7 gallon tank and was quite content. Back when I got him, the tank cost about $10 and the fish was probably about $7. I still had the tank and rocks, so I figured getting the girls a fish and some food for it would be a cheap, fun way to introduce them to pet ownership.
My how times have changed.
This damn fish cost me twenty bucks! Twenty! For a fish! After that insane sticker shock, I bought it the cheapest food I could find that said it was specifically for Betta fish.
The girls, of course, were thrilled. They named him Raindrop Bubblehead Clegg and delighted in telling the fish how much they loved him and taking turns feeding him each day. Of course, he turned out to be a picky eater. The cheap food I bought him was a mix of mostly flakes with a few freeze-dried brine shrimp thrown in. Our stupid fish would turn up his stubby little nose at the flakes and only eat the shrimp. Because, of course.
This lasted for, oh, not even two full weeks. Then Raindrop started floating a lot, not really swimming around. Just hanging out in a corner. And then he started floating only on his side and his rear end near his tail looked swollen. And then he started losing scales on both sides over the swollen part. And then the tips of his fins turned red. And then he started losing all his blue coloring and turning white everywhere. Raindrop was a really, really sick fish.
I could not believe the stupid, high-priced fish my daughters had just fallen in love with was going to die after two measly weeks. So I did what any mother does when her charge has worrisome symptoms: I turned to Google.
It didn’t take long to determine the fish had “swim bladder disorder.” The stupid little picky eater had gotten himself constipated by only eating the brine shrimp. So his little swim bladder was all squished up from the fish poop blocking the way, making it so he was stuck floating on his side. Every website I found gave the same advice for treatment: don’t feed the fish for a few days, and then feed it a skinned frozen pea, chopped into itty-bitty pieces. Apparently Betta fish are carnivores only and can’t digest the pea, so it acts as a laxative and moves right through.
So we did this for a few days, during which there was much fretting and hand-wringing and “please don’t die you stupid little high-maintenance, over-priced fish” conversations. During my googling I also discovered that Betta fish need a heater to keep their water temperature in the mid-70’s. I guess this was never a problem back in my college days because we always kept our apartment so warm (or maybe because they lived on top of the microwave?). Now I live in a drafty old house, it’s winter, and I’ve become acutely aware of the costs of heating said drafty house, so we don’t keep it warm in the kitchen and living room overnight. Apparently, the changes in temperature were stressing out the fish.
ALSO. The fish was supposed to have a minimum two gallon tank, but most advised five gallons. For ONE STINKING FISH. You have got to be kidding me. So I spent the Saturday after Thanksgiving going all over town to multiple different pet stores to find the cheapest possible tank that didn’t already have a big crack in it while sitting on the store shelf. Oh, and a bottle of fishy probiotics. Yeah, apparently every time you change the water it gets rid of all the “good bacteria” along with the toxins like ammonia. And let’s not forget the heater; His Royal Fishiness must have his climate control. The fish that was supposed to be “cheap” has now racked up an easy fifty bucks. For a fish.
So Prince Raindrop Bubblehead Clegg the First, esq. is now in a tank that holds somewhere between two to three gallons of water, has a heater maintaining his environment at a constant 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and has new pellet food that we occasionally intersperse with freeze dried blood worms. And, gosh darn it, if that fish isn’t right as rain again. His color is coming back, his scales have grown back in, he is no longer swollen, and he swims all over the tank, happy as can be. And in the course of nursing him back to health I have, of course, gotten attached to the little bugger. Dammit.