In Defense of the Goldfish

May 11, 2012 by Laura Drucker in Home, Lifestyle, Pets 101 with 1 Comment

When I was in elementary school, I won a goldfish at my cousins’ school fair. I named him Pumkin (not a typo) and he lived for 3 years (which in goldfish years is infinity).

Today is the 13-year-anniversary of his death…don’t ask why I remember the exact date. I was devastated when I came into my room and saw Pumkin floating lifelessly at the top of his bowl. To this day I still think of him (who, come to think of it, was just as likely a “her”) fondly.

According to Petfinder: after cats and dogs, fish are the next most popular household pet in the U.S. with a population of about 24 million. I’m not sure how many of those people own goldfish, but I imagine it’s quite a lot.

Which leads to the all-important question—why?

Goldfish give us nothing in return for our love. No mews, woofs, tail-wags, face licks…not even a lousy head nudge. We can’t walk them, play with them, pet them, or teach them tricks. They’re pretty enough, though not remotely cute or cuddly. They don’t greet us or even make direct eye contact.

Every day for three years I gave Pumkin love and adoration. And meanwhile, every day for three years Pumkin swam in his little bowl completely unconcerned with me.

And yet…Pumkin was a lovely companion during his freakishly long goldfish-existence. He listened to my problems, made sure I was never alone at night, and I’m about 30% sure that once he wiggled in recognition of my presence.

Some reasons goldfish are actually pretty cool:

  1. They are great for teaching children about responsibility. And, similarly important, about loss (nobody can mourn the death of a 4-day-old goldfish quite like a young child).
  2. They are easy to take care of. No raw, organic, homemade diets. No antibiotics and special shampoos. Just you, your goldfish, a jar of that weird flakey food stuff, and a quick bowl-bath a few times a month.
  3. They are cheap to take care of. Want to save money on veterinary bills? Food? Toys? Get a goldfish.
  4. They don’t get separation anxiety. Frankly, as long as those flakes are appearing at the top of their bowl everyday, you may as well not exist to them.
  5. No puppy-eyes/no kitten-nuzzle = no manipulation.

Goldfish walk (swim) that fine line between totally lame and totally awesome. And tons of Americans find them appealing in their own, special fishy way. They make excellent starter pets, and surprisingly good friends.

If Pumkin were around today, he’d probably still just be swimming in that same lazy circle, popping up occasionally for food flakes and ignoring all the cool décor I put in his bowl. And I’d probably still feel that weird, completely unprompted and unrequited attachment towards him.

So, are you a goldfish parent? Can you explain their strange allure?

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