It’s kind of universally accepted that while fish are definitely more animal than say, a tree, they’re still somehow less animal than other proper animals i.e. cats, hence the fact that people who are actually just picky eaters (pescetarians) feel ok about calling themselves vegetarians because “Fish aren’t really animals”. I had been brought up with this idea deeply instilled, so deep that it had become an unquestionable fact rather than a matter of debate.
In my childhood I had sort of a tragic history with pets. I was an only child and the natural solution both for me and for my parents to my lack of sibling attention, was instead of buying me lots of toys, buying me lots of animals. These animals eventually included both a horse (which died because we let it eat too many dandelions) and a pony. I had two cats until when I was 15 and my mum gave our sick cat milk to help him feel better. It turns out cats are lactose intolerant and the reason it was sick in the first place was because we’d given it milk. The sicker it got the more milk we gave it. The cat of course died and its death was followed shortly by the death of the other cat. This was very close to the time of the death of my grandfather and I remember feeling guilty because I wasn’t really very upset about the person-death but I really cared about the cats. I’d had a number of mice and a budgie that were eaten by the cats, who kindly left a trail of blood and parts as evidence for the then 5 year old me to discover.
I had a pet cockatiel (that actually didn’t like me and had just chosen my mum as it’s life partner and all I ever wanted was for it to pay me attention and not my mum who didn’t even want the attention) that I also killed. By accident of course, it had been swimming in our kitchen sink and I decided to wrap it up in a blanket because it was all wet. Then I forgot about it. I remembered maybe three hours later, three hours too late. My parents bought me a new one, which looked identical, the same day and this one liked me better than mum so I was happy. The point is anyway that all of these deaths were quite traumatic experiences for me as a child.
Parallel to these occurrences I also had an undefined number of pet fish. I always named the fish but whereas I could still list most of the other pets that I’d had I couldn’t tell you a single name of a fish that I’d had (possibly Big and Little? I remember this because I remember that I couldn’t tell them apart). Fish deaths just weren’t that sad. I mean nobody was going to suggest flushing the budgie down the toilet but isn’t it really principally the same? Once I had an axolotl that I thought might have grown lungs and climbed out of the tank and into my bed because it literally just disappeared. I was kind of terrified about this. It was really the only possibility I could think of and I couldn’t find the thing for days! For whatever reason I eventually decided to clean the tank and found it sucked up half way into the filter. It used to be a yellow axolotl and all I could see was its now red tail. That was definitely traumatic but only because it was so gross! Fish just aren’t relatable. They don’t even have proper memories. I think ants are more relatable even than fish, at least they are present enough to live systematically. Fish are just chilling out, hanging out, swimming around. That is also mostly what makes them so awesome but only in the same way that a lava lamp is awesome.
In my later life I’ve had a (also undefined) number of fighter fish as pets. I know that they look a. miserable and depressed and b. dead, most of the time but they’re the lowest maintenance pets that you can own. People always came over and were like ‘oh Mary I think your fish is dead’ and I’d always be like ‘oh shit yeah maybe it is’, and then I’d tap it and be like ‘nope still going’. You can literally keep them in a jam jar and feed them once a week and they’ll live for ages! Side note: they also make really good neutral presents i.e. when the it’s the guy you’ve been dating for a month’s birthday. They’re cheap and it’s not like giving someone something they actually have to take proper care of, it’s like giving them a super fun decoration.
This kind of practice (aside from the fact that I have been informed that their native environment is small dried up puddles so a jam jar should be total luxury) is perfectly acceptable in Australia. That’s what you do with fighter fish because that’s the kind of fish they are. If you put them with other fish they’ll kill each other so their life was predestined to be spent in jail. I mean the people breeding these fish and selling these fish are the same people making these little boxes you’re supposed to keep them in. That must therefore be what they’re supposed to go in right? I mean why question it? I didn’t.
Anyway so then I came to Germany and I wanted to get a pet without being so irresponsible as to buy something like a cat (which is what I really wanted to buy) that would live for like 20 years and actually need attention and cost ongoing money. So I found a pet store and went there with 10 Euros and the intention of buying a fighter fish and everything necessary to keep it alive. As far I was concerned it was a flawless plan. If they didn’t have fighter fish I’d just buy a stupid gold fish and although I’ve never had a gold fish live for longer than a month I decided I could just buy a new one anyway.
If I had been in Australia, my plan would have been flawless. Unfortunately I was in Deutschland and the fact that I had not pre-empted any of the problems with my plan, and also didn’t realise that they were problems until it was too late, meant that my fish mission failed avalanche style.
I went into the pet store with my limited German and wandered around for a bit, seeing if I could see any fighter fish without having to talk to anyone. I had no luck and also didn’t see any fish that looked like you could keep them alive without having to spend lots of money on extra equipment. They didn’t even have any goldfish (I was later told that apparently they’re seasonal? Like fruit? Don’t they live for like 10 years and get giant? Whatever). It had taken me a really long time to find this pet shop though and I really was set on the idea of coming home with a pet so I decided to ask anyway. I asked if they had fighter fish and they were like yes sure. And I was like really oh sorry I’m so stupid I didn’t notice the section (looking for the like corner of square mini-tanks that they usually keep them in). It turns out the reason I didn’t find the fighter fish was because they were swimming around both like and with normal fish in this really big fish tank! I’m still kind of confused about how this was possible but apparently it was. I thought they’d eat all the other fish but the lady said they only ate each other or something. Then I told her well good, I want one. I think at this point I stupidly and completely unsuspectingly said something like ‘oh I thought they’d be in those small containers they’re normally in’. The woman just looked at me like I’d asked her why they were selling normal kittens instead of bonsai ones. She was like ‘oh I’ve seen pictures of that on the internet it’s so terrible for the animals they don’t even look alive anymore.’ This I guess is true but I didn’t know! I just thought that was how they were supposed to look! I mean those creatures that live under the sea where there’s no light don’t look very pretty or very happy either and I don’t think that’s any result of animal cruelty. Then she proceeded to tell me about Germany’s laws about animal cruelty and implied that you would definitely be liable for some sort of fine for keeping a fish in a jam jar. I decided to play along – I thought ok fuck it I’ll spend the extra ten euros and keep the stupid fish in a big fish bowl (luxury living for a fighter fish).
Then I told her I wanted one fish and one bowl. First she freaked out and told me that I couldn’t just buy one fish because it would be lonely and that would therefore be animal cruelty. I had to buy three. Come on that’s like three times the price! I was like ok I’ll buy two and I want this bowl and pointed to some goldfish bowl. I would like to highlight here that when I say ‘goldfish bowl’ you do know exactly what I’m talking about – because that’s what it is. That is the round bowl that is always the same sort of size that you keep goldfish in. The woman’s like ‘that bowl is not for fish its just for plants its inhumane to keep fish in a bowl like that’. How was I supposed to see that one coming it’s a fucking fishbowl not a plant bowl. Nobody buys that shit and puts plants in it that’s boring. She told me that I had to buy at least three fish and an actual proper aquarium, like something that I would have imagined you could put 20 fish in, for these three fish. If this was happening in Australia I would have decided that the woman was just being a bitch and trying to up sell but this was legit. She actually thought that I was a horrible person; I think she probably thought she should report me or something. I also left with the feeling that I had been enlightened to some sort of fish-friendly religion and that maybe I actually was a terrible person for wanting to keep a fish in a jar because I guess if it was a cat and it looked so sad I’d feel pretty guilty. But fish are fish! I’ve realised that the solution is going back and saying that I already have a running aquarium and that I’d a fish to add to my existing collection and also to start a plant bowl. I still haven’t worked up the courage to do this yet, partly because I feel like there may be further unforeseeable flaws in this new plan and partly because the woman made me feel like I would be a terrible person if I did do this and also because I’m worried that my German housemates will be of the same opinion as the pet shop lady and disown/report me.