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One Accident Leads to Another July 11, 2013

The goldfish were a beacon of peace.  Bobbing up and down to the trickle of water which flowed from their filter, I often found myself just sitting and staring.  I smiled as they came to the front of the aquarium, their gargantuan eyeballs fixed upon me with what seemed to be compassion and understanding.  At the end of a rough day, this was the place to go: a place that reminded me that there was more to the world than the office.

And that was the thought that started it.  I worked at a desk now, the buyer for a small company.  Amidst frantic deadlines, mis-shipped freight, and product quality issues, I was beginning to feel the weight of the job.  If fish made me so very happy at home, why couldn’t they make me equally happy at work?

The idea was a brilliant one and it wasn’t long before I had secured permission to set up a new aquarium at my desk.  Nothing big, just a gallon and an half: enough to hold a small Betta.  Like my goldfish, his selection was inspired by childhood memories.  Unlike my goldfish, however, I labored under no misconceptions that he would be an “easy” fish to keep.  I started out right with a volume entitled, Betta: Your Happy Healthy Pet by John H. Tullock and shortly thereafter added, The Betta Handbook (Barron’s Pet Handbooks) by Robert J. Goldstein, Ph.D.  Both books contained a wealth of information and I was able to ensure that I had my aquarium set up properly from the start.

My goal was to make the environment at “native” as possible.  This included everything from adding the almond oil, tannin containing ATISON’S BETTA SPA 100ml to an attempt at providing my new fish with a real-life hunting experience through the addition of a few live plants and some newly hatched brine shrimp.  I think that my boss began to rethink his project approval the day I appeared with my San Francisco Bay Brand Shrimpery and set about my farming project, but he tolerated it nonetheless.  Three days later, I had a fresh hatch and, with great delight, dumped the entire clutch (probably a few hundred baby shrimp) into the aquarium.

With a few plants and plenty of substrate, I figured that it would take Mr. Spock a few days to locate all of his new prey.  Unfortunately, I had underestimated his love for the hunt.  He immediately took to the new live food and I watched at first in excitement and then in horror as he set about consuming every single shrimp in a matter of minutes.  The once bright-eyed blue crown-tail now looked distinctly bloated and, for good reason, I was distinctly worried.  Of course, there isn’t any good way to pump a fish’s stomach (at least not that I’m aware of) and the next morning, I found myself paying a tearful goodbye to the friend who, at least for several weeks, had helped relieve the stress of my job.

Not ready to give up, I immediately went out and purchased a second Betta: Mr. Worf.  This time, it was not the crustaceans who were to seal his fate, but my fellow office workers… including one germ-obsessed nut with a can of Lysol.  With great effort, I explained that chemicals and aquariums didn’t mix.  Then, I explained it again.  And again.  Each time doing my best not to have an asthma attack within the confines of my own, freshly aerosolled office.  (Come to think of it, I might have had better luck had I made my lungs the topic of discussion rather than my fish tank!)  The message fell on deaf ears and, a few weeks later, Mr. Worf found himself buried in a grave not far from Mr. Spock.

Irritation now flooded my heart and soul and with selfish zeal, I packed up all of my tiny aquarium equipment and hauled it home where, unwilling to accept defeat, I set it up one more time.  Within days, a new occupant flitted amongst the plant life.  I did my best to ignore that this completely defeated the purpose of setting up a second aquarium to begin with and, for the next two and an half years, enjoyed the constant presence of “Fishy”.

As I sit here writing this, I find myself gazing at a new little friend.  Baby Sev is now my fifth Betta (most live only two to three years in captivity) and my second attempt at raising a fish “from scratch”.  Still a fry, he may as easily turn out to be a female as a long-finned male: only time will tell.  He’s friendly enough and as I watch him flick his fins at me I am reminded that true failure is found only in a failure to learn from our mistakes and an unwillingness to try… just one more time.


The Goldfish Were an Accident May 23, 2013

The goldfish were an accident. They weren’t the plan, just the beginning of the plan. Originally, my intent had been to use them as an aquarium “starter pet”. I had kept 10 cent feeder fish as a child and, with a life-span of a few months, they seemed the perfect candidates for establishing my reputation as an aquarist. In three months, I’d have made most of the mistakes a new fish keeper can make and, armed with this knowledge, would move on to brighter tropical fish and, eventually, to the holy grail: a saltwater tank.

The fish, however, had a different plan. Using a common calculation (1” of fish to every gallon of water), I was able to determine that my five gallon fish tank could easily sustain five 1” Lionhead Goldfish. These were fancier than the feeder fish and would give me greater enjoyment during the coming months. If you’ve ever heard the old wives tale that a fish won’t grow bigger than its bowl, you’re about to learn otherwise. My dedication to my piscine friends led to rapid growth and it wasn’t long before I was replacing their five gallon tank with a ten. It was in this aquarium that two of my fishy friends eventually met their demise… but not without what proved to be an unusually long run of several years! Three fish remained and, having now recognized that my goldfish (whose names had been changed multiple times to reflect everything from my love of “Lord of the Rings” to my fascination with Israeli history) I began to apply myself quite seriously to the art of goldfish keeping.

I admit to having been less than satisfied with most of the books available at the pet store. These were clearly written with the average six year old with a few feeder fish in mind, but I was looking for something more… adult. It wasn’t long until I had found it: “Fancy Goldfish: Complete Guide To Care And Collecting” by Dr. Erik L. Johnson, D.V.M. and Richard E. Hess. The volume was a goldmine! From the history of the goldfish’s development and criteria for collecting and showing to tips on trouble-shooting aquarium problems and even performing a necropsy on a dead goldfish, it had the very scientific approach for which I had been searching. I read the book cover-to-cover and over the following months was able to make good use of nearly every tip or trick it contained… even to the point of saving one of my fish’s lives!

It had been a long day at work when I returned home to find Golda (named for the inimitable Golda Maier) sitting at the bottom of the aquarium with her fins clamped firmly to her sides, her gills barely fluttering. I tapped the tank, but received no response and, crouching down to look her in the eye, realized that she had swallowed a rather sizeable rock. (I had taken care to select gravel too large for my fish to ingest, but apparently nothing is really too large for a reasonably determined goldfish.) It instantly became apparent that the only way to restore Golda’s ability to breathe would be to remove the rock myself. And for this, I turned rather frantically to Dr. Johnson. Buried amidst the pages of his volume were succinct instructions for anesthetizing a goldfish.

I admit that I approached the task a bit nervously. After all, Dr. Johnson was clear that the overuse of the oil of cloves which I had purchased for my medicine cabinet months earlier could lead to euthanasia rather than sedation. And I certainly didn’t want to kill poor Golda! Not after all she’d been through. Five drops (no more) were placed in a small quarantine tank along with water from the aquarium. Stirring the solution carefully, I netted my baby (now almost as big as my hand), placed her inside, and watched the clock.

I felt like a surgeon: monitoring vital signs, waiting, watching, hoping not to leave her too long, but knowing that if I didn’t allow her to become sedate enough, I risked doing serious harm when I tried to maneuver the rock out of her airway. Certain that she was ready, I removed her to another container filled with fresh water and gripped her firmly in my left hand as I inserted my tweezers into her oversized mouth.

That she was cognizant of the process was obvious, but she struggled very little and, within a few minutes, I had removed the bolder and returned her to a recovery tank. Over the next hour or so, she slowly returned to normal and was eventually returned to the aquarium.

Years have passed. My three remaining Lionheads are now eleven years old (a well-cared-for goldfish can live as long as 25 years) and make their home in a twenty-five gallon tank. The size of baseballs (and one nearly the same shape), they bob peacefully, lining up at the bottom of the aquarium to stare at me as I write. Even Golda, who has never been quite the same, seems to smile as I type. “The Eyeballs” as I call them now, have become a fixture in my life. A peaceful reminder that sometimes a beginning becomes an end and that not all projects turn out quite as we expect… but that often those twists lead us onward to something even better!


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