Our family pet is actually a collection of tropical fish. We have a 36 gallon, bow-front tank of ‘community’ fish in the foyer, the first thing you see when you walk through the front door. Here’s my case for tropical fish:
1. Fish keep the house clean. There is no fur, dander, etc. to clean up. Don’t get me wrong–I like dogs….other people’s dogs. I hate cats, but if you’re a cat lover, cut me some slack: I’m allergic to them. My eyes are itching just writing this paragraph. So with fish, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can breathe and I don’t have to own an industrial strength vacuum cleaner.
2. Fish are colorful and peaceful. There’s a good reason why some people use a screensaver that looks like a fish tank. In fact, when my son was a baby I used to park him in his Exersaucer in front of the fish tank for a few minutes: a guaranteed dose of calm. To be fair, the freshwater fish we keep are not usually as colorful as saltwater fish, but freshwater tanks are much easier to manage. Either way, a tank is always an attention-grabber. Everyone who visits our home stops to watch the fish. In fact, many of our trick-or-treaters are more interested in the fish tank than in the candy bowl every year.
3. Fish don’t mind if we go away. We can drop a vacation feeder in the tank, hop in the car, and off we go. I might even let the algae build up a little on the glass before a longer trip to give the fish a salad bar option. (Clear glass on the tank is more for people outside than for fish inside. To them, a little algae is a snack.) Beyond the feeding issue, the fish do not miss us if we are gone, they do not need to go out for a walk, and no one needs to check on them.
4. Fish are easily supported through the circle of life.
Endings: As we all learned in Finding Nemo, all drains lead to the ocean–or, in our case, the septic tank. We usually do not name the fish, which makes it a little easier to let them go when their time comes. And when Fish 1.0 takes his final swim, Fish 2.0 usually costs $1.00-$3.00 at the local pet store. But once you have an established tank with healthy water, tropical fish are hardy–We have some in our tank right now that are almost 3 years old. Recommendation: Species that have done the best with us include neon tetras, platies, guppies, and danios.
Beginnings: On the other hand, some species are more than happy to restock the tank for you. Guppies and platies have often surprised us with a new generation. But caution: ‘Big fish eat little fish’ isn’t just a metaphor, so as soon as we spot the babies we put them in a floating ‘playpen’ to keep them safe until they are big enough to mix with the other fish in the tank. The few dollars our ‘breeding box’ cost at the pet store were money well spent.
Healthcare: No vets (or vet bills). Once in a while I might have to add StressCoat or another liquid to the water if a fish is looking sick, but that’s it. They usually get better, but when they don’t, there’s not much (anything?) more a vet could do.
5. Fish stay where they are supposed to. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me they had searched their neighborhood for a pet that ran away, got lost, or was stolen. My fish? Always in the tank. And if any of them ever decide to escape the tank, see #4 above–Endings.
6. Fish are low maintenance. Aside from feeding them every day or so, all the fish need is for me to clean the tank once in a while with a brush to wipe the glass and a siphon hose vacuum–and to replace the water vacuumed out (never more than 1/5 of the tank’s volume). It just takes 20 minutes or so every few weeks, and their home looks great. Add an otocinclus to the community and (s)he’ll help keep the glass clean by sticking to the sides of the tank feeding on anything that grows there.
7. A new fish is an easy, inexpensive treat. Stopping by the pet store to let someone pick out a new fish (or two, or three) to add to the tank is fun–and cheap.
8. Fish are educational. Passing up the obvious ‘they live in schools’ joke, I would add that the kids learn about biology and responsibility by taking care of the fish.
Yes, our kids sometimes talk about the furry pets that are just not going to move into our home. But they enjoy the fish that do live here. Proof? We also have a 5 gallon tank that used to live in my office, but I brought it home when I was changing jobs 2 years ago…and it has been on my son’s dresser ever since. I’m not counting on getting it back any time soon.