facing pet loss: another lesson in saying goodbye

As most of you know, our family has been dealing with quite a bit of pet death lately. Some special clients have left us, and we've been working through that. My Junior Pet Sitters Porter (8) and Campbell (6), are hit especially hard when our animal friends depart. 

We lost another pet this week. This one was ours. Plantie, Porter's beta fish, is no longer with us. 

Facing Pet Loss: Another Lesson in Saying Goodbye

Facing Pet Loss: Another Lesson in Saying Goodbye

Porter named Plantie, "Plantie," because from day one, he loved to hang out in his aquatic plastic plant. And being a boy of four, the name just made sense. So "Plantie" it was. Though Plantie explored his tank, he would always come back to his plant. Like Porter had "Super" (short for "Super Blankie"),  Plantie had his plant for security. 

A few months ago, I started noticing Plantie not looking so perky, He would rest more often in his plant, and he started to look a bit "askew." I Googled "life expectancy of a beta fish" and learned that the big 0-2 was average. Plantie was four-and-a-half. 

I let Porter know that Plantie had more-than-doubled his life expectancy and that he wasn't looking his best, so to be prepared. Sensitive Porter had a breakdown and obsessively observed his fish when he was home and then obsessively asked me about his fish on the way home from school each day. I felt like it was too much turmoil for him, so I publicly squelched my concerns and told him not to worry...Plantie was just getting old but doing okay. "Old folks move slower," I said. "You know how you see older people with a cane, or they just walk really slow? They are still enjoying life, but just at a slower pace. That's where Plantie is in his life." 

It seemed to soothe him a bit and diminish his obsession, but he'd still check in several times a day.

Over the past several weeks, I've watched Plantie slowly deteriorate. He progressed to the point where he'd basically lay around all day in the corner of his tank, just breathing, but he'd still perk up each morning at feeding time, wiggling around in excitement, migrating with effort up to the tallest leaves of his plant in anticipation. He loved breakfast. As the days went by, it seemed to me as if his lower body was paralyzed and his head was controlling all movement. Yet he still got excited when I'd approach his tank, so we proceeded. 

The other morning, as I approached, I didn't see him wiggling to get to his plant, and I knew. I had to look all over to find him, and discovered Plantie was not living up to his name, but was, instead, laying on the bottom of the tank not breathing. 

I broke the news to Porter, and he was as crushed as expected. He knew in his head that Plantie had lived a fuller-than-full life, but it still stung. The permanent news is a bit like an electric shock. I pulled the fish out with a net so Porter could confirm him deceased and take a good last look and say goodbye. Porter wanted to do the honors, himself, so we all gathered in the bathroom and supported him as he placed Plantie into the toilet and pushed the handle. He asked to keep Plantie's plant.

We let his teachers know since Porter was quite down and distracted. The news must have spread to his friends, as he came home with pictures and notes of sympathy. It really touched my heart that his peers would be so thoughtful and sympathetic. 

Very sweet note.

Very sweet note.

Angel fish.

Angel fish.

R.I.P. Plantie. You were a good fish and lived up to your name each day until your last. We will miss you. 

Plantie a few weeks before he passed.

Plantie a few weeks before he passed.

how to tell when your child is ready for a pet

This article, written by me, originally appeared on Brie Brie Blooms. It appears here with minor changes, with permission. 

Kids and pets: they go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? Families who have never even considered incorporating an animal into their lives may consider it once their children start the begging process. Any kind of pet requires some level of care, so at what age is a child ready for that responsibility? Since all kids are different, it can be difficult to determine a general guideline, but there are some important things to consider that can help us make a good choice when deciding whether to incorporate a pet into the family. 

Step 1: Determine if the pet you are considering is in the realm of possibility. Housing pony in your apartment or a shark in your pool are suggestions that can be shot down without further ado.

Step 2: Research, research, research, and ask yourself some tough questions. Some things to consider:

• What type of daily care is involved?

• How much exercise does this animal need to be healthy and happy, and am I physically able and willing to spend the time an energy it takes to provide that?

• Will this pet make a mess (shedding, pooping, chewing, etc.), and am I willing to put up with that mess?

• What is the life expectancy of the pet, and will we be able to care for the pet for the duration of its life?

• Is this pet a safe choice for our family? What are the risk factors?

• Is anyone in the household allergic to this type of animal?

• What are the upfront and long-term costs associated with bringing this pet into the family? Consider food, supplies, vacation care, and veterinary costs. Is proper care for the pet in our budget?

• What will day-to-day life be like with this pet? Will this pet add joy or chaos to our family?

• Who will be responsible for day-to-day care of the pet?

• Can you provide the animal a safe, loving, healthy environment?

Step 3: If you've determined the answers to all of the questions above, and are confident that a new addition would be great for your family, then it's time to find the perfect pet. 

Let's look at some common options.


It's a classic. What kid doesn't want a snuggly puppy? Puppies and dogs are lots of work, but the rewards are great. They truly can become members of the family.

Pros: Oh, so cute. High level of interaction, great exercise partner, excellent snuggle-buddy, playful.

Cons: Can be messy, require lots of interaction. Exercise requirements must be met for physical and mental health. May require training. Ongoing grooming and veterinary costs. You have to take Fido on vacation with you or find a pet sitter.

How do I get one? I'm an advocate for rescue. Most areas have multiple rescues to choose from. There may be certain cases where a particular breed may be purchased from a reputable breeder, but never, ever purchase a puppy or dog from a pet store, as they almost always have come from a puppy mill.

Upfront cost: $$$

Ongoing cost: $$$

Daily care required: Feeding multiple times per day, providing fresh, clean water as needed, meeting exercise requirements (depending on breed and age through walking, jogging, playing and other forms of exercise), high level of interaction with family, cleaning "accidents" or mishaps if untrained.

Periodic care required: Regular veterinary care, grooming, pet sitting.

Bottom line: The right dog with the right family is magic. It is likely that all family members will need to participate caring for a pooch. As children grow older, they can take on more responsibility.


Cats are great. They are as individual as we are. Some cats are low-maintenance, and some require more attention. How integrated they are into your family largely depends on their nature and your care.

Pros: Fun and often funny. Some will be highly interactive (never leaving your lap or quite playful), and some will disappear until dinner is served (you are their slave). It all depends on what you are looking for. Usually require a bit less maintenance than dogs do. 

Cons: That litter box smell (in most parts of the country, it is best to keep a cat indoors), worried parents if an outdoor cat doesn't make curfew, sometimes they barf up hairballs, sometimes they scratch stuff up. They sometimes scratch and bite if they don't get their way.

How do I get one? Rescue, rescue, rescue. There are SO many kittens and cats of any age that need homes desperately. 

Upfront cost: $$

Ongoing cost: $$

Daily care required: Feeding once or twice, providing fresh, clean water as needed, scooping the litter box.

Periodic care required: Regular veterinary care, grooming (varies, depending on coat) pet sitting.

Bottom line: Look for the right fit. Cats are as individual as we are. If you adopt a cat that fits with the lifestyle you want, you'll have a great buddy.


Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils all fall into this category. Though personalities will vary amongst breeds and individual animals, the general care and time commitment is similar. 

Pros: These pets are cute and entertaining, and, depending on type, can even be trained. They don't need walks, and they won't take over your house (unless they escape, heaven forbid).

Cons: Frequent cage clean-ups and difficult–if not impossible–to potty train. Often shy and skittish, at first and can be slow to warm up. These animals often make quite a bit of noise gnawing on things hopping about or running in an exercise wheel. 

How do I get one? Your best option is always to rescue, but small caged animals aren't as abundantly available as dogs and cats. If you've checked your local rescues and the type of pet you want is not available, make sure the pet store you purchase from is reputable.

Upfront cost: $$

Ongoing cost: $

Daily care required: Providing fresh food and water and interaction, as well as a means to exercise (large pen or running wheel).

Periodic care required: Veterinary care as needed, Cage cleaning every few days, depending on the individual animal. Pet sitting required for extended trips.

Bottom line: In reality, small caged animals are more work than they are thought to be. They can be great "starter" pets for children, but once the initial infatuation wears off, your child may lose interest.


Birds come in all kinds, from the small, quiet, finch to the exotic, chatty, parrot. if you are truly a bird lover, you should have no trouble finding the perfect fit.

Pros: Beautiful and fun to watch and interact with (depending on species). Songs can be soothing to listen to. You can put them to bed.

Cons: Birds can be messy and loud. Birds who squawk can be disruptive. Time consuming to train. Some will bite.  

How do I get one? Bird rescues exist, and they are great places to find an avian family member. Rescues will know the individual personalities of birds and can help you find a great match. Purchasing a bird through a reputable pet store is a second option.

Upfront cost: $$-$$$$

Ongoing cost: $$

Daily care required: Providing food, fresh water, and treats, as well as daily interaction and cage maintenance.

Periodic care required: Regular veterinary care, wing clipping, cage cleaning (as well as the area around the cage) pet sitting.

Bottom line: In order to be a successful bird parent, you have to be a bird person. They can be great pets for children, depending on the type of bird you are considering, but require quite a bit of attention and parents will definitely have to help quite a bit, initially.


Reptiles, amphibians, and snakes make excellent pets for children, as long as they are handled properly. They are unique and fun to learn about and care for.

Pros: Most are relatively low-maintenance, and they provide a unique educational experience for children. Some can be quite interactive. Great for kids with allergies.

Cons: They aren't very cuddly. Some must be fed live prey. They can carry disease that may be transmitted to humans, but, if handled properly, this is not an issue. 

How do I get one? Always turn to your local reptile rescue, first, but if you can't find a good fit, get a recommendation for a local reptile breeder. These people are usually "reptile nerds" and will provide you with an education and recommendation about the right fit for your family. They are a wealth of knowledge. Though there is nothing wrong with purchasing a reptile, amphibian, or snake from a pet store, I'd make that option number three.

Upfront cost: $$-$$$$

Ongoing cost: $-$$$

Daily care required: Feeding (varies, depending on type), providing fresh water (depending on type), interaction (depending on type).

Periodic care required: Veterinary care as needed, aquarium/habitat cleanup, pet sitting for extended trips.

Bottom line: Do your research. Each type of reptile, amphibian, or snake requires a different environment, feeding schedule, and care program. These animals also vary widely in how interactive they are. They can be an enriching educational experience and a lot of fun, but be sure you find the right fit. 


Perhaps one of the best "first pets" for young children. You can get a beta fish in a bowl, or you can spend a million dollars on a custom salt water tank. 

Pros: Beautiful and soothing to watch. Quiet. Low maintenance (unless you go nuts).

Cons: They are quite sensitive to their environment, so you have to be careful. Basic fish are pretty easy, but if you want a full aquarium, you'll need to educate yourself thoroughly before embarking.

How do I get one? Typically, fish come from a reputable pet store.

Upfront cost: $-$$$$

Ongoing cost: $-$$$

Daily care required: Feeding and visually checking on the health of the fish and condition of the tank.

Periodic care required: Tank cleaning, pet sitting for extended trips.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a first pet for your child, a beta fish is a no-brainer. They are typically pretty hardy, and they don't require an elaborate aquarium set-up. If you're into something more involved, maintaining an aquarium is a great family hobby. 


Consider the family routine when determining if your child is ready for a pet. Who will be responsible for the pet's care, and how will it be determined that the job has been done? Although your five-year-old may swear she'll feed the fish every day, she may be distracted. It's best in cases like this to actually witness your child feeding the fish. Provide her with a checklist, and even consider a pet-related reward for a job well done. Maybe she receives a new decoration for the tank after a month of excellent care. If your child falls down on the job, it is ultimately the responsibility of the parent to make sure the animal is cared for. It's not fair to Fido if he has to wait two days for water because no one has noticed his bowl has gone dry. Having a pet can be a great way to teach a child responsibility, but kiddos–some even into their teens–need supervision when it comes to animal care. It is ultimately on our shoulders, as parents, to make sure the animal is well cared-for.

Pets can provide us with love, entertainment, and a great deal of enjoyment as they become part of our families. They help teach children responsibility and caring, and give kiddos a greater sense of belonging and friendship. When considering any pet, it's important to know that you're making a commitment to the animal for the life of that creature. Rescues become overcrowded when people are impulsive about bringing a pet into the family and then have a change of heart. It's just not fair to the pet, so be sure to do thorough research and know what you're getting into.

Pets add a great to family life when you determine that your child and your family is ready for the adventure. There is a great fit out there for all animal lovers.

Does your child have a pet? Tell us about your experience!

You might also enjoy:

your baby and your pets: 10 tips for a smooth introduction

kids and animals: instilling respect

how to approach and pet a dog: ten steps kids need to know


life after goldie and crystal: the happy ending

If you've been following our betta fish saga, then you know I left you hanging regarding the state of affairs. First my daughter Campbell lost Goldie, her fish of two years, and then she lost her new betta, Crystal, less than 24-hours after bringing her home. When I woke up early that morning and made the discovery, I had no idea what to say to her.

I had only moments to gather my thoughts. She came down the stairs, wrapped in her Mimi, ready to greet her new fish.

I intercepted her.

"Campbell, come here, please." I lifted her up and sat down in the dining room, putting her in my lap. I gave her a big hug and some kisses.

"What, Mommy?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

"I have some sad news, Cam. Some really, really sad news."


"I'm not sure what happened, but Crystal died during the night." 

"WHAT?" she cried. "Oh, no!" She jumped off my lap and ran over to the shelf where she expected Crystal to be.

"I moved him over here, Cam, because I didn't want you to see him before I had a chance to tell you." I indicated to his tank on the kitchen counter.

"But..." she said, looking at him. 

"I know, baby. I looked online, and it seems that the baby bettas require a lot more care than the guy at the store told us. They are really fragile." 

Campbell was just super sad. She went through the whole mourning process, again, the same as before, so if we didn't clog the toilet the first time, we had a second chance. Once Cam settled down, I had a moment to deal with my own feelings. Not only had we inadvertently killed a creature, my child now would have to go through the morning process a second time. I was pissed.

But I decided to be polite when we returned to the store. I asked for the manager. I told him the whole story, though I didn't know what he could possibly do to make it better. "I would have preferred that your associate tell me he didn't know rather than this, " I explained.

The manager was kind. He apologized briefly to me and explained that he would speak to all of his associates about it, then went on to address Campbell. "What's your name?" he asked.


"Well, Campbell, I'm really sorry for your loss. You must be very sad."

She nodded.

"I don't know if you're ready, but if you'd like to choose another betta fish, you're welcome to take any one you choose. I'll go over the care with you and your mom in detail so we make sure things work out this time."

"Thank you," she said. She set off to the betta display, and the manager escorted us, explaining about all the different types of bettas and their characteristics. He left us alone to deliberate, and my only rule was "no babies." Campbell thought and thought and looked at every single fish. She finally and decicively settled upon a "Rose Petal Male" with a silvery-turquoise body and large, crimson, petal-like fins and tail. The complete opposite of Crystal. The manager told her she made a fine selection. "That one's a $20 fish," he announced. She looked at him, confused, and though it wasn't the point, I still felt a slight bit of satisfaction in that.

When we got into the car, Campbell asked "is 'Roosevelt' a boy's name?" 

"Not only is it a boys's name, it's the name of two of our past presidents!"

"Really?! Then his name is Roosevelt, 'cause he's a rose petal fish." 

"That is the perfect name," I said. 

Roosevelt made it home safely with us, and he's been thriving on our betta shelf for a couple of weeks. Every morning when she wakes up, Campbell assesses his health. "Whelp, it looks like Roosevelt is doing great," she'll declare with a smile. Adult bettas are definitely easier to take care of than baby bettas."

And that, folks, is the moral of the story that finally seems to be having a happy ending. 

Roosevelt, our happy ending. 

Roosevelt, our happy ending. 

life after goldie: a harsh lesson in betta care

As you know, my daughter, Campbell, lost her betta fish, Goldie, a couple of weeks ago, and then promptly asked when she could get another fish. In an attempt to cheer her up, I took her the very next day to choose a new companion. 

She looked and looked at all the options and considered which ones were looking at her longingly and which ones looked half-dead already. She declared that she'd like a baby betta. A red flag went up in my mind. Though we've successfully cared for adult bettas, we'd never tackled a baby, and I wondered what additional care might be involved. I told her that we'd need to speak to someone about it before she made a final decision, so the lady at the register sent someone over.

"How may I help you?" he asked.

"Well, my daughter has her heart set on a baby betta. Before we choose one, I want to make sure we can care for it properly. We've done well with adult bettas...is a baby much different?"

"Oh, no. Aside from feeding them one pellet per day rather than 2-3, the care is just the same," he answered.

"So we just feed it less, and we're good to go?" I confirmed.

"Yes, exactly. Let's set out all of the babies so she can choose the one she wants." 

Sounded simple enough to me, so we proceeded with the selection process. And–bonus–the babies were a mere $1.99. I could find that in my couch. Campbell selected a silvery-white baby and declared him a boy and named him "Crystal." She also selected a new pink plant and disco-style multicolored gravel for his dwelling.

We went on our way, and Campbell made sure to keep Crystal very still in the car. She took her mommy skills seriously. 



When we got home, we gave Crystal a chance to get used to his shelf, then transitioned him into his new little tank with all the trimmings. He swam around and seemed very happy. Campbell asked me how to spell "I love Crystal," and proceeded to decorate his shelf with paper cutouts of the phrase, along with some other cute ornaments. It was love at first sight, and my girl seemed really happy about the new addition.

Before going to bed, she tucked Crystal in and told him goodnight.

The next morning, Big and I were up at 4:00 a.m. for some such thing. "Oh, you got home late from work last night...you didn't see Crystal, yet." I was excited.

"I'm calling him Billy Crystal, by the way," Big announced as we walked over to the baby fish. "Oh, BLEEP," he said. "Please tell me he's sleeping." 

I made my way over to Crystal and gave the tank a little tap. And then I broke into tears. This could not happen again. "What do I tell her?" I cried. He didn't know. Crystal was on his side at the bottom of the tank.

I relocated the tank so Campbell wouldn't go right to it when she woke up and I'd have the chance to break the news to her gently. Then I hopped on the computer and Googled "baby betta care." What I found was not at all what the man at the pet store said. 

Betta Care Central said:

Unfortunately stores such as PetCo often times sell "baby betas" properly called betta fry. The reason I say this is unfortunate is that these fry are too young to be sold, most people do not know how to take care of them properly, and baby bettas have a weak immune system making them more prone to illness and disease. Baby betas have special requirements."

Betta Adventures said:

Like every other animal, babies are more high maintenance to take care of and require extra attention...

And so on. You get the point.

Though I should have done my own research before taking on the baby, I felt confident that the people helping us in the store would give us correct information. The gentleman who helped us seemed confident and gave no indication that I should seek other assistance. I felt angry. But I could deal with that later.

There was a more pressing matter at hand: how to break the news to Campbell.