I have always had pets. I grew up in the country, with three very spoiled and loved dogs, two cats, chickens, ducks, goats, fish— we were never without pets. And my freshman year, moving into the dorms, it was very hard to imagine not having pets. So my roommate and I made the choice that a lot of incoming freshman make: we’ll get fish.
My dorms allowed a tank up to 10G. This is generous considering a lot of schools allow up to a half gallon, which I know now is really unsuitable for all forms of life.
My roommate and I headed off to the local fish store, which specializes in ponds and freshwater tropical setups. They have an entire building for housing goldfish of all kinds, a huge koi pond, and a giant greenhouse of pond and aquarium plants, in addition to the walls and walls of gorgeous tropical tanks you expect to see in a fish store. We chose a tank that would fit well in the limited space we had— a 5.5 gallon glass rectangle, a classic— and headed out to the goldfish building. The lady there told us that it would be no problem to put feeder goldfish in the tank we were holding, and estimated that three or four could fit in it no problem. And that was all she told us. She netted us three tiny baby common goldfish, and we grabbed a bag of gravel. We asked about a filter and she told us it could wait a while, which was convenient for us because we had planned on buying a filter and ornaments at the Petco closer to the dorms. Nothing about cycling, or ammonia, or the growth rate of common goldfish.
And so we were headed home with our new babies.
Anyone who knows anything about goldfish is cringing right now, but aren’t they cute? We decided that we would each name one, and my boyfriend would name the third so that it was fair. The orange one to the left is Bitimen, named by Josh, the spotted one, Waldo, named by my roommate, and the brown one, Tweak, named by me. Unfortunately, these names spelled the fate of the fish. Tweak was so named because he would do these little tweaky dances and dart around a lot, which at the time we thought to be a cute quirk, but turned out to be a death dance as he suffocated in his own waste. Waldo, in a moment of awful irony, died inside the pot ornament we got for them a few days later, and we were unable to find him for a day and a half, leading to a lot of very morbid “where’s Waldo” jokes.
10 months later, Bitimen is going on 9 inches long, and can eat a tub of fish flakes in two weeks. He lives in a massive tank that constantly needs to be cleaned, despite the HOB filter and sponge filter. Hundreds of dollars have been spent on his food, his tank, his filters, his water conditioner, as I constantly upgrade from what I was “told” was enough to what I’m discovering is still a bare minimum.
If I had known what a burden proper care for Bitimen would end up being, I never would have bought him. I would have bought and spoiled a betta, who would have loved a 5.5 gallon house (in fact, that’s who lives in the 5.5 these days: Lumos, the spoiled betta). I love Bitimen, and he’s been a very happy part of my life. The sound of him clanking around in his rocks had become so commonplace to me that I would be uncomfortable without it. The happy food dance I get every morning, and about every four hours for the rest of the day, is a thing of joy to me. I love him, and the friends we got him once we upgraded his home. But if someone had warned me about the deaths, stress and expense that he would be to me, I never would have bought him.
Because those deaths are on me, not the saleswoman at the store. I should have researched getting a pet BEFORE I did it, not after. I should have looked into what a goldfish really needs, rather than listening to some poor woman at the store who was probably not much older or more experienced than me. And however little and cheap those lives were, they were lives, and I ended them with my ignorance.
And I really hope that anyone considering a goldfish will take this to heart: they are glorious, lovely, stupid little pond puppies and will be the light of your life, but they are not a dorm pet, and they are not a starter pet, and they are not a pet for a broke college student unwilling to spend hundreds on a $0.20 fish.