A few summers ago my husband and I went to see a house that we were considering purchasing. While we were looking around our Realtor noticed that although the house was vacant, there was a huge fish tank in the corner. The water was green and murky but through the filth we were able to see that several fish were calling this home.
There was a container of food on the shelf above and since the house was vacant we decided to feed the fish. The Realtor sprinkled a little fish food over the top and those fish went insane! It was clear from their reactions to the food that it had been a long time since they had last been fed.
We decided against the house, but my husband couldn’t forget the fish. That afternoon he left to go back to his job two states away, not to return for a week. He called to say goodnight and told me that he was feeling terrible about the poor fish that had been left to die. I agreed to try rescuing the fish.
After some back and forth between the Realtors and owners I was told that I could have the fish. My kids and I set off to Shaw’s to pack our “fish rescue kit.” We purchased Ziploc Baggies, distilled water, rubber gloves and paper towels. Confident that we were well supplied we drove out to the house.
The fish were not excited about being rescued and did their best to avoid capture. It took us over an hour to scoop each fish from the depressing tank. Finally we had them all rounded up and safely packaged in the Baggies for the ride home.
I knew that dish soap could leave a residue that is toxic to fish so rather than taking a clean bowl from my kitchen I asked the children to bring in a large bucket from outside to hold the fish until a suitable tank could be obtained. Having been pregnant and home alone for the week with three small children I was understandably tired after our rescue mission. We got the fish settled into the bucket and we placed it in the kitchen. Then the children and I went upstairs for a nap.
After awhile I came down for a drink of water. Walking into the kitchen I was greeted by several fish flopping around on the floor, one on a chair, and a few lifeless fish scattered about. Screaming and shaking with the heeby geebies I grabbed a spatula and assisted the flopping fish back into the bucket. This took some effort as they didn’t trust the spatula and flip flopped back onto the floor several times before being safely deposited back into the nice clean bucket.
I then called my friend Stacy and begged her to come over to flush the lifeless fish. I was so impressed as she bravely scooped each fish right into the toilet. We did some brainstorming and decided that these fish were jumpers and so the bucket needed a cover, and perhaps they had gotten so used to living in filth that they were a little confused about how they should behave.
I didn’t have a lid for the bucket so I figured a cookie sheet would be an acceptable temporary cover. I was very upset that I was responsible for the death of those poor fish and vowed that I would do a much better job from now on.
The next morning I arrived in my kitchen and found a similar scene to the afternoon before, only there weren’t any floppers. I didn’t need my spatula, only Stacy who promptly arrived to take her role as undertaker to the fish. We surmised that the cookie sheet was not a suitable top for the bucket as there was about ½ inch of space that we now see was enough to allow fish to escape.
I could not understand it. I spent hours trying to save these poor fish. I gave them clean water and food and still they clearly preferred death to a life with me!
Stacy and I did a much better job securing the bucket this time (with two cookie sheets), confident that the poor unwitting remaining fish would remain safely in the bucket this time.
That evening in my prenatal emotional state I called my husband in tears to let him know that I was failing as hero to the fish. I was doing everything I could and they were still dying. I just wanted them to live.
The following morning I awoke to see that they had found another means of suicide. Could life in our house really be that bad? These fish had been living alone, without food in a murky filthy mess and they were doing just fine until they came to live with us!
I called Stacy and she graciously came over yet again. We were now down to four. I wondered, should I return them to their former home? It didn’t make any sense. I was trying to save your lives you silly fish!
I don’t need to tell you what the remaining four fish did with their afternoon. I had no choice but to admit defeat. I threw away the spatula and the kids took the bucket back outside.
It turns out that the fish were most likely “feeder” fish and not very high on the food chain, so they weren’t meant for a long life anyway.
About a week later the kids asked if they could wash my car. “Sure,” I said and I watched as they filled the very same bucket with water and then added (you guessed it!) dish soap. Suddenly it was all very clear. The early jumpers weren’t suicidal after all. With everything I had done to protect the poor fish we had unwittingly poisoned them all. Sorry fish…I meant well.