Finding Ninee » Sharing our parenting and special needs stories with heart and humor.

Life, Death and The Sucky Reality of Pet Fish

Pet fish are my pet peeve. The following is a quick glimpse into my untrue “oh but they’re so much easier than puppies” experience with owning them over the past three years or so. I’m not talking the cool, complicated, awesome stuff of actually having a shark or some stingrays swimming in a tank built into your living room wall. I asked our local pet store about that, but found out that pet sharks and stingrays require a salt-water tank, and a lot more maintenance and funding than I was willing to commit to.

The tank I’m talking about today involves a pet-store guarantee of “these are the most hearty and easiest fish to care for ever” kind. Here is my experience.

the totally sucky reality of pet fish

1. Have a friend give you a free 10-gallon tank, after upgrading her own and spewing how relaxing fish are for the family to watch. I think she even said that they reduce blood pressure, and I was willing to try it, even though I knew that my unfulfilled dream of watching a shark or some stingrays swim in a tank built into my wall would be much better.

2. Clean the free tank, set it up, let it marinate for a few days because you’re supposed to, and then go to the pet store with your little boy, unable to go back on your promise that he’d come home with some new cool fish friends.  Disregard the fact that in order to actually bring them home, you have to pay $130 for a filter, air bubble maker, heater, anti-chlorine liquid, food, some PH balancer stuff, some plants, some rocks/glass beads, and whatever else I’m forgetting that was included in the purchase.

3. Enjoy the tank for five minutes or three months until green stuff starts growing on the glass and on the rocks.

4. Assure your little boy that you’ve got this. Attempt to clean the tank with one of those sucker-cleaning things, while not swearing over the fact that there’s probably more water on your floor than is in the tank. Realize that you’re not going to make this work, and pre-treat a bunch of water knowing that tomorrow, you’ll have to empty the entire thing.

Cleaning fish tanks SUCKS5. Realize that 10 gallons is a lot more than you might think that it is. Take a kazillion trips back and forth from the tank to the sink to get all of the water out of the tank. Say as many bad words as you need to. I think it took me about 122 of them.

back and forth fish tank6. Tell your little boy that taking the fish out of their bowl and saying “Look, Mommy!” is not actually helpful, while admiring his mad fine motor skills and courage because touching fish is gross.  Figure out that the many pitchers and bowls you’d filled the night before cleaning the tank are in no way enough to fill it back up. Sit on your ass and stare at the tank for a while, wondering whether matching the temperature exactly truly matters.

DumbassFishtank7. Prepare to become a bad person who does not appreciate that fish may have souls, and decide that the tap water you drink every day is also good enough for them. Figure out the temperature using your hand. After all, your hand can tell in two seconds whether your kid has a fever.

8. Do this over and over and over again for 18 months until the fish start dying. Be happy that they’re dying because not only is your little boy less than thrilled over the fact that he has SIX pets, but you realize that pet fish suck. They are not fun, they are not snuggly, and cleaning the tank is a huge pain. Decide that when the last one dies off, that you’ll give this free tank to a new, less seasoned family. You know – sharing brings good karma.

9. When they all die but one tiny little dude, decide that your kid DOES actually care whether he has pet fish, and drive to the pet store while he’s in school to surprise him, wearing hoodie and sunglasses, in case the husband is on lunch break and can read your mind or your motives.  Pay $90 for new filters, 10 new fish friends, and a bunch of other fish-tank related crap.

10. Repeat all of the above for a bazillion years and admire the clean tank whenever it’s actually clean which is about once every four months for a couple of days. Add Bob, the placastomus to help your cleaning efforts. Call him ugly every day and feel badly when he dies because he spent his whole life eating fish poop and having you tell him that he’s ugly.

Fish Tank w placastomus

Then, one day, realize that your sparkly new tank is full of fish swimming around with white dots on them. Go pay more money for meds that you’re too late with, have them all die, and take the empty tank to the basement while your kid is at school.

In unrelated news, my little boy has been asking for a puppy.

The Golden SpoonsI’m linking up with Lisa and Rabia for Tuesday Ten today – it’s Pet Peeves week. Also, if you’re thinking that fish are actually cooler than I think they are, please IM me. I’m more than happy to give you our tank. And all that other stuff I had to buy that’s now sitting on my basement couch…


  • My Inner Chick - OMGosh! FUuuuuuuNNY.
    I know what you mean, Kristi.
    It seriously grosses me out…cuz they poop inside the water!! Don’t they have a freaking toilet someplace private?
    And then they die. Die. Die.
    What a tragic life.
    xxx
    Kiss from Duluth.October 14, 2014 – 5:58 pmReplyCancel

  • Mike - This was very funny, my dear 🙂 As a young kid my step sister had a fish tank (with fish) that I found soooo soothing to watch while listening to the bubble machine. It was a pleasant white noise. But, even as a little boy, I knew right away I wanted nothing to do with being responsible for the tank or the fish. Hence, you know what I asked for repeatedly and finally got 30 years later. So, I’m siding with Tucker and a hopeful new puppy coming into his/your life soon, Kristi 🙂October 14, 2014 – 6:50 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Aw sweets, they are very soothing but really you were the wise one in saying NO because they are SUCH a pain in the ass!!! Um, thinking about the puppy… sortof don’t feel ready yet, either…October 14, 2014 – 11:09 pmReplyCancel

  • Emily - I say “go for the puppy!” I am so with you on the fish. I never even attempted a tank, but we had siamese fighting fish (ie, betas) that lived in 2 separate bowls next to each other – one for each boy. Fortunately, The third boy had no interest in a fish. Fish #1 died pretty quickly. Fish#2 hung on for quite a while, despite the murkiest bowl you’ve ever seen. Just think, you could be cuddling a puppy instead of staring at fish poop.October 14, 2014 – 7:07 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Um, yeah, but the puppy is like a baby… maybe a rescue dog – Chief was one of those and amazing… and OMG those betas are MEAN. Had them before too… thank goodness LD didn’t want one!October 14, 2014 – 11:11 pmReplyCancel

  • Lana - So funny! Honest to god, a dog is easier than fish. I hated them! We finally gave up on the big tanks and got the beta fish that could live in a goldfish bowl. Much easier to take care of. And then there was the hamster…October 14, 2014 – 7:21 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - I think a dog is easier too! Except a lot more vocal if you forget to let them poop… ugh to the hamster… I’m NOT looking forward to those requests!!October 14, 2014 – 11:38 pmReplyCancel

  • Linda Atwell - Out One Ear - You know, just this second, I realized something. In the past we had a dog (I’ve never wanted to have fish due to the maintenance you discuss in this post–yuck!–especially because of how little you get in return (just my opinion in case a fish lover reads this)). But Arthur died a couple years ago and we decided not to replace him because of all the traveling we do. Prior to Arthur dying, my neck/back felt a lot better. So, I just now realized animals help when you are stressed. He licked my fingers and on my worst days, he made me feel better. My point? I hope Tucker gets a puppy. But again, just my opinion, dogs are better than fish. (p.s. we had a little dog, Shih Tzu. Remember when picking out a puppy, little dogs produce little things. Big dogs produce BIG things.) Our Shih Tzu was a huge people lover and sat next to us and always wanted to be around family. And they don’t shed all that much. And he was just the easiest dog. I’d recommend a Shih Tzu, but you probably already have some sort of dog in mind. I’ll live vicariously through your posts when you write about this new addition to your family. I can’t wait.October 14, 2014 – 7:38 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Linda!! My dog before Chief was Arthur!! And he was such a butthole. But I loved him, and he loved me. He’d have been horrible with kids but wow. We named our dogs the same!!! Anyway… I hope Tucker gets a puppy too but I’m not sure now is the best time… Chief was $53/day to board every time we travelled and well. It’s only now that Tucker seems to even remember him. I”m hoping I can buy a couple of years… and thank you!October 14, 2014 – 11:40 pmReplyCancel

  • Roshni - You just described my life a few months ago…and now we do have a dog!! 🙁October 14, 2014 – 7:54 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - OMG!!! YAY that you have a dog!! I’m not sure we’re ready again… but maybe??October 14, 2014 – 11:41 pmReplyCancel

  • Dana - I feel your pain. Gwen insisted on buying a huge aquarium with her own money, and she regrets it. Dozens of fish have died, the water is a pain to change, and well – you said it all. And we HAVE a dog – why in the hell did she want fish too? And don’t get me started on the goldfish that she won at the fair four years ago – that damn thing is still alive.October 14, 2014 – 8:02 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Aquariums sound SO much better than they really are for real. We HAD a dog… but well, he’s gone now and Tucker for the first time seems to remember that he had him in the first place and is that true that you’ve had a goldfish for FOUR YEARS???October 14, 2014 – 11:42 pmReplyCancel

  • Allie - Kristi, that is hilarious – and if it’s true, momma – it’s time for an intervention. I personally think anything that I have to keep alive (plants included) that I didn’t give birth to, suck. My kids keep harping for a dog and everyone tells me how good it would be for Bear – but the WORK involved, I don’t know.October 14, 2014 – 8:04 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Um yes, totally true. And yeah, WORK. All of it work. I had an amazing dog when Tucker was born and he died when T was like three, and T didn’t seem to notice but now is all WHERE IS CHIEF??? Like omg weird and um maybe puppy time??October 14, 2014 – 11:44 pmReplyCancel

  • Kenya G. Johnson - LOL I remember those pictures. I don’t know if this is the same post but I laughed all over again. I’m telling you if you want the fish to die they WILL be the most hearty fish you’ll ever care for. I looked at my tank last night and wondered when they last time they’d been fed. In the beginning we treated the water, fed them everyday and cleaned the tank like every three weeks. Fish died all the time. Now I clean the tank whenever it’s like so gross I can’t stand walking by it, feed the fish when I think about it and never treat the water. They are still hanging around and having babies. At this rate, I’ll have a fish tank forever.

    I hope Tucker gets his puppy.October 14, 2014 – 8:43 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - It’s partly the same but redone completely (recycled some of the drawings because why not) and I’m so glad you get this!! I feel guilty wanting them to die already but OMG they are just annoying and gross and of COURSE yours are hanging on! I’m so glad my tank is empty in the basement. But um, if Tucker were to say something tomorrow, we both know that I’d be all over the pet store making him some new friends or whatever….October 14, 2014 – 11:47 pmReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ Golden Spoons - Bwahahaha!!! We did the fish go ’round. I won’t even tell you how many times my husband drove to Petsmart after the kids were in bed to replace the fish before the girl woke up so they wouldn’t even know. Not only did we kill our own fish, we also killed 4 hermit crabs and 2 fish we were pet-siting while some friends were away on an extended trip. I say go withe puppy!October 14, 2014 – 8:51 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - OMG the secret drive to Petsmart once the kids are asleep??? HAAHAH!! Also I swear I am NEVER getting the hermit crab. I hope, anyway… here’s to a puppy? Maybe???October 14, 2014 – 11:48 pmReplyCancel

  • Chris Carter - OHMYGOSH this is HILARIOUS!!! Oh Kristi- do I have a fish story for you too! It would take too much time to go into details- but I have been through something VERY similar!! And I ended up (after Cassidy’s fish died of depression- I swear it was depression. I told her we needed to talk to it and encourage it to live live LIVE!!! It died. She cried. I cried. It was indeed depressed.)

    I bought four 25cent feeder fish to make BOTH kids happy. I promised they would live- and be HAPPY!!!

    Oh they lived all right.

    I fed them three hearty meals and two snacks a day.

    They grew…

    And grew…

    AND GREW…

    Until after buying several more BIGGER tanks along the way…

    They were SO freaking big we couldn’t handle it anymore!!!

    They would SPLASH water all over the room because they didn’t have enough room for the two foot tails to swim.

    So we donated them to my friend’s pond.

    I wonder if they are still alive.

    I need to go ask my friend.

    I swear, they were ENORMOUS. Over six inches long- including their tail? Probably larger.

    I talked to them every day… and went to go feed them too.

    For MONTHS after they left.

    I also spent months checking in on them with my friend. She assured me they were happy!!!

    It’s been a few years.

    They are probably too big for her pond.October 14, 2014 – 9:54 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - OMG Chris are you for real? Were they goldfish??? Goldfish can get HUGE and I loved this story of yours and laughed out loud that they are maybe too big for your friend’s pond… can you please check??? Kinda gross but kinda amazing too!!!October 14, 2014 – 11:51 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Also, for real? Depression???October 14, 2014 – 11:51 pmReplyCancel

  • Kathy Radigan - Love this! I must confess I never went the big tank filter way. I went the goldfish in a bowl. We had Dorthy for 3 years!!!! She got really big. We had a few other including one that died, and then came back to life after I put him in a crystal bowl. I’m not kidding about this!! Lets just say I’m done with fish. And hermit crabs. And hamsters. I don’t even have houseplants anymore. Lol! xoxOctober 14, 2014 – 10:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Vanessa D. - I had an aquarium when my kids were young. Usually things would be going along great and then one of the kids would “feed” the fish. Or a bottle of fish medicine would get dumped in. Everything would die and I would start over again.

    Ironically, I had a beautiful plant in there that kept growing until it filled the tank and yet my house is usually where plants go to die.October 14, 2014 – 10:58 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Vanessa, I suck at plants, too. Sadly, I also sucked at the fish tank plant and now? Am so done with the whole fish thing that I may never find out…October 14, 2014 – 11:53 pmReplyCancel

  • Raymanda Floden - I just fell on the floor laughing. Not at you but with you. Girl if we had known each other 17 years ago I could have told you NO!!!! Don’t do it!!!!! All these years later, I get what I want as I am ultimately I am the one to feed it, walk it, clean up after it! We have a weenie, and now we are down to one yes on hedgehog. Yeah I said yes to a hedgehog. We got two, but a few months ago I made the 17 year old give it away as she was NOT holding up her end of the bargain. Call me a meanie, but I never wanted to be a zoologist!October 14, 2014 – 11:15 pmReplyCancel

  • Janine Huldie - All I kept thinking about was Lily asking me the other night, why we don’t have fish anymore. True story, I kid you not. I think you know they all pretty much kicked the bucket when we lost power over 2 years ago with Hurricane Sandy (and by the way Emma actually explained this very notion to her) and here she finally asks me now. And we have a puppy, so go figure!! 😉October 14, 2014 – 11:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Sarah - The Ick! God, I hate fish. Such an enormous pain the ass! We had them for years, and I NEVER cleaned the tank but put up with Brian doing it the Messiest Way Possible months after the water was so low that the falling sound of it (coming out of the filter or whatever thing it was) was driving me out of my mind. Since we moved to MD, I have REFUSED to allow him to set up the tank, which now resides in our garage, but I suppose I will relent some day. I hate pet fish.October 14, 2014 – 11:32 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - They are SUCH a pain in the ass, Sarah! UGH. Glad to know that I’m not alone in it! That’s funny about the filter – we had the same thing happen. And also, how in the hell do they even get the ICK?? It’s not like they didn’t wash their hands after using a public restroom or something.October 15, 2014 – 10:38 amReplyCancel

  • zoe - Told you about catfish Gil. Let me tell you about Barney the hamster and how social services paid us a visit related to a story my then kindergartener decided to make up about his death because (and I quote) “in the real story he just fell asleep. “October 15, 2014 – 2:57 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - OMG Zoe! For real? Social services came to your house because of a dead hamster?? HAHAHAOctober 15, 2014 – 10:38 amReplyCancel

  • Alison Lee - Bahahahaha!!
    I mean, I’m sorry for your loss. *snigger*October 15, 2014 – 5:05 amReplyCancel

  • Lizzi Rogers - Aiiiiieeeeeee. Yeah – I’m sat next to an empty, clean tank. Husby has a spider. HE can deal with it.October 15, 2014 – 6:21 amReplyCancel

  • Kimberly - We bought our son a fish tank for his birthday and it was the worst gift ever.
    Our fish got those weird white patch things and we did the “open our wallet and buy all the things anti-fungal” so that our son wouldn’t ask us why his fish looked different because we had to flush the dead ones and replace them because these parents feel awkward about Jesus talk because well, Jesus…October 15, 2014 – 7:20 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - hahah, Kimberly! Cracking up! Did he ever figure it out? That’s awesome that you replaced them on the down-low.October 15, 2014 – 10:50 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Get the puppy. It will never take the place of your beloved Chief but it will be a world to open up for Tuck. Plus touching a dog is much less gross than touching a fish. The relationship Bailey & Bridget have is freaking amazing. Wait, maybe get a dog not a pup because then you have to clean puppy poop. This post cracked me up by the way, awesome job b/c like I needed it today. Really did.October 15, 2014 – 10:14 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Argh though to puppy! I mean totally adorable and all that but it’s like having a baby! Maybe a rescue dog that’s already trained or something. Maybe… I’m glad that this made you laugh, Kerri. Sorry that you needed it though…October 15, 2014 – 10:51 amReplyCancel

  • zoe - what was really priceless was the way he told his teacher who called DSS that I hit Barney repeatedly with a board because I was afraid of mice… he had seen it on the Flintstones or something… Barney died in my hands and I was the only one who cried… the guys were all “oh well.”October 15, 2014 – 10:49 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - I am laughing my ass off. HAHAHA seriously. He told the teacher that you hit him with a board because you were afraid of mice? That is beyond awesome (I mean, for me to sit here and read about it – I’m sure it totally sucked for you at the time). I’m laughing WITH you. Mostly. HAHAHAHOctober 15, 2014 – 10:53 amReplyCancel

  • Marcia - Blogitudes - Oh yes. Fish and the tanks they live in – most expensive, time consuming pets our family ever had. Never again. Never ever again! LOL I absolutely loved your post and your terrific art work. Thank you very much for the laugh today. 🙂October 15, 2014 – 11:04 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - So most definitely the most awful and most expensive pets ever!! And thank you so much for saying that you like my stupid-looking drawings!!! 🙂 I’m glad they gave you a laugh.October 16, 2014 – 12:25 amReplyCancel

  • Scott Hansen - No thanks. The kids are enough to look after…October 15, 2014 – 1:52 pmReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - Lol! This is a perfect and hilarious description! I did the fish thing in college – never again! We have a hermit crab. My son won it at a fair and my husband and I had bets going as to how long it would last (he said 10 days I said 2 weeks). We have had it for over 2 years now – a very easy pet, little maintenance, no noise, better than fish! 🙂October 15, 2014 – 4:09 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Elizabeth, the fish thing? SO overrated!!! My son wanted a hermit crab when we were at the beach this summer and I said no way, assuming they’d be stinky and gross but really? It’s been great?? Maybe something to reconsider. Tonight, he said he wanted a white cat after seeing some YouTube video… but I’m horribly allergic so probably no cat unless we get an ugly bald one which husband also says no way to…October 16, 2014 – 12:35 amReplyCancel

      • Elizabeth - No sticky and gross – we have shredded bark in the tank (along with colored sand) and it smells kind of sweet the way bark does. I am kind of with your husband on no ugly bald cats…October 16, 2014 – 9:58 amReplyCancel

        • Elizabeth - “stinky”October 16, 2014 – 9:59 amReplyCancel

          • Kristi Campbell - Yeah, I’m kinda with husband on the no bald cats too but… well, we need to get some type of pet I guess.October 18, 2014 – 6:52 pm

  • Tamara - I don’t know, Kristi.. I think 18 months is great! I usually expect 18 hours.
    Poor, poor placastomus. I will never have fish or birds as pets. It’s the whole water/sky thing. And also, the cost factor, really.
    (It’s mostly the cost factor)October 15, 2014 – 11:13 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Dude. It was like THREE years, all said and done. And yeah, the fish thing sucks.October 16, 2014 – 12:36 amReplyCancel

  • Anna Fitfunner - Yeah, somehow we’ve managed to dodge most of that pet stuff. We solved that problem by having some wonderful neighbors that have gerbils and a puppy. Whenever the boys feel in the need for a pet, especially the younger one, I just send them over there. Works great!October 16, 2014 – 10:36 amReplyCancel

  • Rabia @TheLiebers - Seriously, not even ten minutes ago I mentioned that I want to get my son a fish tank for his birthday! Maybe I should bookmark this and re-read it in June when that days gets closer. Maybe it’s not such a good idea!October 16, 2014 – 3:51 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Rabia! Definitely rethink the fish tank. They are SUCH a pain in the rear. Seriously. They’re really pretty when they’re clean though…October 18, 2014 – 6:53 pmReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ The Meaning of Me - Yup, best laugh I’ve had all day – and not at you, but with you for sure. Fish suck. Yes, a shark in the wall would be awesome, but pretty much fish suck. I could have told that story point by point, no joke, except that at the time I was Miss Single Gal and there was no adorable six year old boy in the story. Or any other adorable boy for that matter. Hmm…maybe that’s why I got the fish? No idea.
    Oh, and that puppy thing? Yeah, they have to OUTSIDE in all kinds of weather to do their business. Which means YOU will take said puppy outside to do said business. Take it from a converted cat-hater…get a cat. They pretty much handle themselves and they poop in a box, no outside walks in the snow required.October 16, 2014 – 10:30 pmReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Lisa, I would so totally get a cat except I’m really really badly allergic to them. Like I cannot breathe around them. HAHA to no adorable boys in your life being maybe the reason you got the fish! And they totally suck. Totally!October 18, 2014 – 7:17 pmReplyCancel

  • Brittnei - I almost hate to say it but this was hilarious! I say I hate to say it because I can only imagine the nightmare that it truly was. I actually never thought of how much work a fish tank could be. My husband likes them so I’m sure our children will get bright ideas one day. Will I be the one who has to clean it? Ugh! Probably!October 17, 2014 – 3:53 amReplyCancel

    • Kristi Campbell - Brittnei,
      I never would have guessed how much work that fish are either but they are SUCH a pain. I like the idea of them, but the actual them? Not so much… I’ll be here when you want to vent about cleaning the tank though!October 18, 2014 – 7:18 pmReplyCancel

  • Lillian Connelly - I could have written this myself! The fish are just so aggravating. I think puppies are easier.October 21, 2014 – 11:04 amReplyCancel

  • Jana - I can’t grow plants and I can’t keep fish alive — it’s just the way it is and I’ve come to accept it. No pretty aquariums or lovely houseplants for me.October 21, 2014 – 11:19 pmReplyCancel

  • piper george - Husband: I want a giant salt aquarium with hundreds of expensive fish, risks and beautiful coloured growing plants
    Me: You’ll never look after it
    H: I will, I will, I promise
    Me: We’ll start with something smaller and cheaper

    6 months later, staring at 60 litres of green algae and the 6th set of fish

    H: I want a puppyOctober 23, 2014 – 1:34 amReplyCancel

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