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.

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.

goodbye, sweet goldie: losing my child's pet

I hate to admit that as a professional pet sitter, I had no idea about how to care for a betta fish. Sure, we had large aquariums growing up, but never just a little fish in a bowl. It couldn't be that difficult, right? Yet, still, I had to do all the research and talk to multiple experts before we brought ours home. The littles had started begging for their own pets, so I figured a fish would be a relatively painless choice. I take care of all sorts of animals, and frankly, if I think of what types of pets I'd like to care for in my family (because you damn well know I'm doing all the work), some are more work than they are worth. Thank goodness I get to satisfy my yearnings to include all things animal into our home in other people's homes. 

I digress. The betta seemed like a good choice, and it was. So approximately two years ago, when Porter was five and Campbell was three, armed with my nefound betta knowledge, we set off to find them each a fish and a habitat. 

Porter chose "Planty," a blue-ish male with fancy fins, and a bluish habitat to match. Campbell had her heart set on a plain goldfish, but when I told her "no," because they required more care than a betta, she settled on "Goldie," a smaller, plain red male betta, who Campbell deemed a "she." If you want something bad enough these days, it is so. So it was so.

We brought the fish home and set up their individual habitats. You see, you can't put two betta fish together because they will fight to the death. Much like siblings close in age. Not that I have any experience with that. The littles watched their fish quite frequently at the beginning. Actually, more than I thought they would. They enjoyed feeding them and helping to clean their habitats.

I was happy because they were super easy to care for. (The fish, not the children.) Just a minute or so each day, then about thirty minutes on the weekend to do a water change, etc. No big whoop. And they were much more fun than I thought they'd be. They would dance joyfully every time we passed by. Most likely they were eager for food, but we preferred to imagine they loved us.

As with most children, the littles lost a lot of their interest as time passed. So I had to add "feed fish" and "clean fish habitat" to their chore charts. And they did the tasks. 

As they got a bit older and their imaginations expanded, they would talk to their fish. They still liked the fun part of betta parenting, at least. Campbell, especially, loved to talk to Goldie and tell her about the day or make up some fancy story for her. I enjoyed watching that.

Goldie was always less active than Planty. In fact, she gave us several scares over the past couple of years.  Planty is so active that we have to be careful when feeding him. We can only lift the lid on his habitat for a split second to deposit nourishment in order to prevent his leaping suicide attempts. Twice, now, I've had to rescue him off the table, as he's perfected his dolphin leaps. Goldie, however, had to be poked every now and then to make sure she was still with us. The kids would say "Mommy! Something's wrong with Goldie!" But all she needed was a little nudge. "She's fine. Just resting." 

This past Sunday after our family had spent a wonderful day swimming, Porter was checking on the fish and said "Mommy! Something's wrong with Goldie." 

"I'm sure she's fine. Just give the tank a little tap. She'll wake up," I said from across the room.

"No. Mommy. This time I really think there's something wrong," he reiterated. Campbell joined him tankside. She agreed.

I rolled my eyes and put down the dinner I was preparing. After two years of this, didn't they know everything was fine?

Only everything wasn't this time. There Goldie was, front and center, upside-down. She'd never rested upside-down before. I gave her tank a little jiggle, and she just swayed back and forth in the water, still upside-down. Shit. 

"Um. Guys. I think you're right about Goldie. I know this is really sad, but she's died. I'm so sorry," I broke the final news.

"But, Mommy, her eyes are open," Campbell reasoned. If the fish death wasn't breaking my heart, she surely was. 

"I know, baby. Sometimes animals die with their eyes open. She's not moving at all." I gave Campbell a big hug, and so did Porter–which you normally can't get him to do for $100–and told her that I was certain Goldie had passed on.

There were lots of tears and lots of hugs. Campbell asked if she could spend some time alone with Goldie, which I thought was quite mature. She must have seen that on TV, because it couldn't have come from me. So I took Goldie's habitat and placed it on the kitchen table. She sat in front of it and talked to Goldie. After a few minutes of that, I asked her what she'd like to do."We can do a little service for her, if you like, and then we can say goodbye," I suggested.

"What do we do with her? Where will she go?" Campbell asked.

As with most things, I took for granted that she'd know. "Well," I started, "we'll need to flush her down the toilet. That's the best thing for her."

"So she can go to the ocean?" Campbell asked.

"Yes, of course."

"But what about the sharks?'

Porter chimed in, "Sharks only like live prey. Like stuff that is bleeding or swimming around. They won't care about Goldie. They'll just ignore her." Oddly comforting.

Campbell looked at me for reassurance. "That's basically true. Sharks won't care about her at all. They'll leave her at peace."

"Okay," she gave her permission. "I want to make some things she can take with her. Her favorite things." 

"Like what?" I asked.

"I need some paper and some markers." She set out to work. She drew a picture of herself, a heart, and a flower. "Goldie loves me, she loves flowers, and I drew a heart because I love her." 

"That's really nice, Cam." My hard core child was showing more sentiment in this moment than she had in her life, and all I could worry about was whether we were going to clog the toilet. 

No matter. We'd put Daddy on the task if that happened. 

We staged Goldie in a smaller, more portable bowl with a bit of water and gave Cam a few more moments with her. She said she was ready, so she carried Goldie and the things she drew to the bathroom and the whole family of five gathered in the small quarters. Not wanting to be left out, the dog came, too. I asked Campbell if she wanted me to pour Goldie in. She said, "No, Mommy. She's my fish. I want to do it." Her maturity surpasses mine in so many ways. Of course she would do it.

She poured Goldie in. She dropped in the heart drawing, then the sketch of herself, then the flower. She looked up and asked "Are you sure about the sharks?"

"Absolutely. She'll be just fine."

She looked down into the bowl. "Bye, Goldie. I love you." Then, without being told, she reached to the handle, paused for a moment, and flushed. 

We all stood there for a minute. We were sad. Not as much about the fish as about how touched our tough-as-nails Campbell was. We felt proud of her. And we felt bad for her. There was a collective sigh as we all filed out of the bathroom.

Campbell broke the silence with one more question. 

"Can I get a new fish?"