I feel pretty bad for your average goldfish. What other species of animal can be bought for 29-cents at any local petstore or mega-chain and then humiliated in ping pong ball tosses, gutter races and fraternity eating contests? If a dog was getting this treatment, you would find the ASPCA on the doorstop and even if it was a cat, horse or rabbit you might find the offender featured on Animal Cops on the Animal Planet channel.
That's just not so for the unlucky goldfish. At a beach party over the weekend, the day started as a fun event for little kids. Cookie walks, scavenger hunts, swimming, swinging and sliding. And then I saw it. A guy lifts a giant, clear bag out of a cooler, the plastic glinting in the sun full of wiggling goldfish. Oh, no, here comes the ridiculous humiliation of gold fish in a gutter race. Sheesh.
For the most part, I try not to freak out about the small things. I allow my kids the pizza and lemonade once a week for school lunch, the occasional treat from the corner store and candy at the baseball games. However, animal cruelty in any form - that's just not happening, even to a goldfish.
Is this how our species learned to tolerate feedlot farms of cows 100 to a pen standing in their own manure? Or to accept eggs from chickens confined to a pen so small they can't turn around? Was it because we lost touch with the basic concept of respect for another living thing? No, the goldfish won't play fetch or chase a fuzzy toy mouse, but does it deserve to be thrown into icy cold hose water and shoved down a little gutter for our amusement? I look around and no one seems surprised or bothered in the slightest - parent or child - and this upsets me. Someone hands my son a plastic cup with a fish floating listlessly in sediment orange-tinted hose water and tells him "Go Race!"
All of four years old my son looks up at my face. Mom, what is his name? I don't know, I tell him. What do you think it is? His little voice says quietly, his name is a mystery because I don't know where he came from. I say, I don't think he should race, do you? Fish aren't meant for racing, you see, they are little and fragile so let's keep him safe and warm him up, OK? The fish stayed at our table, refreshed with room temperature bottled water and the boy had much more fun watching his new friend than playing any game.
Mystery, the fish, now resides in a castle in a comfortable bowl filled with clean water on our kitchen table. If taking care of a fish for awhile teaches my son to respect all living things, no matter how small, it will be well worth the effort. Mystery, my friend, you sure did get lucky to find us!