Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Admiral Ackbar single again

Yes, Bernard Black passed away this week.

Bernard the Black Moor, not the bookstore owner - though he did drink like a fish!

Apologies to any Dylan Moran fans out there for the potentially upsetting news. Apologies to everyone else out there for the terrible joke.

Ahem. Shall I start again?

Bernard: the fish. Although a consummate professional at 'playing' dead he actually proved quite the fighter - surviving some nasty fishy disease outbreaks and outliving several tank mates over the years.

Alas, the latest bug got the better of him, despite my tank-side ministrations. It is a bit of a relief with the impending trip OS and the MIL house-sitting (she was considerably perturbed by Bernard's fake death shenanigans last time she stayed).

Some months back I swore that I wouldn't get fish again once Bernard was gone. But now I am not so sure. Admittedly the house is a little crowded with 2 people, 4 cats and a dog (tho' he is only small). Tank upkeep is unsurprisingly not my favourite task (especially with a dodgy arm - which is partly to blame for the latest disease outbreak).

But the tank light bathed the room in such a nice glow and the bubble of the filter was like a meditative white noise in one's peripheral hearing. Not quite whale song or crashing waves, but comforting nevertheless. And ever so more so noticeable now, for its absence. Watching the tank was definitely better than daytime television. Now its sits dormant, bereft of light and life.

Unfortunately I am becoming increasingly aware of the unethical practices in the pet industry. Just Google "puppy factories" or "puppy mills" for some seriously disturbing information about practices at the core of the industry. Aquarium practices are perhaps less outrageous, but just because a Goldfish costs $5 and there is 50 in the tank, shouldn't mean that their life is any more disposable.

Fish are promoted as low maintenance, instant pets. I can't tell you how many times I've seen families bundled out of the pet shop door with a tank, chemicals and a bag of fish. This is particularly offensive when the proper set up of a tank, even the most basic, takes days if not a lot longer, before live fish ought to be introduced. A bunch of (expensive) chemical additives might help fish survive, but is no guarantee. Which leads me to believe that pet stores don't give a flying fuck whether the fish live after you've handed over your cash, because you'll either be back for more to replace the ones that died, or will abandon the tank after the novelty has worn of and come back and buy a puppy.

Not to mention that the presence of rows and rows of Siamese fighting fish in water glass sized tanks makes me so angry. That is cruelty personified. The "fact" promoted by the industry that they can survive in small puddles of water is appalling. Yes, they CAN survive. Just like we CAN survive on a diet of rice cakes and water if necessity dictated it.

But surely we want more than mere survival for our pets. The reason they sit motionless at the top of the tank is because they are starved of oxygen. Put a Siamese fighting fish in a large tank, properly oxygenated, with no inappropriate tank mates - and you will see an energetic and happy fish of the most luxurious and dazzling colouring.

And who knows whether tropical fish are harvested with any respect to maintaining wild fish stocks in their native environments. Or whether breeding fancy goldfish with "aesthetic" deformities impinges on the fish's quality of life.

I guess every decision we make has ethical consequences if we dig deep enough. Responsible pet ownership is one of them, and I often wonder whether it is wise to consider our own needs of companionship, or if it is just selfishness. I am not advocating never getting another pet once our household ultimately becomes pet free. Nor can I stand on any perceived moral high ground. Our collection of animals have variously been acquired from both pet stores, breeders and rescues. I adore each and every one and don't regret taking any of them in to our home. Had pure desire won over practicality, I'd be the happy owner of chooks and (to Jms' dismay) a donkey. I'd keep bees in a heartbeat if I weren't allergic.

(Of course the local council might also have some sway in the matter too...)

So Bernard is gone, and the tank remains empty. But I am yet to dismantle it and really put some action behind my ethical convictions. A friend once commented that we ought to have kids - if only to stop us from getting way too many pets!

Hmmm. They ARE cute. Jms?? Don't kill me.

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