I am an animal lover.
Small and exotic animals--large and small rodents, birds, reptiles, fish--are arguably a second class of animal companion.
"It's just a ______," is a dismissal I often hear. When I had pet rats, many of my friends and family didn't understand why I invested as much time, effort, energy, and, most importantly, money into a creature that is considered vermin. For the low low price of $12.95 plus tax, I became responsible for the well-being of a life; and that's exactly how I viewed it. I spent hundreds of dollars taking my rats to a specialty vet for medications and check ups and surgeries. There was rarely a moment at home where they weren't in my pockets or my coat or perched on my shoulder. They had personalities and intelligence, and, in some sort of metaphysical sense, souls.
It's something I believe of all living creatures.
After my rats passed away, I abstained from adopting more. Their lifespans were too short, and I was too heartbroken to lose them. I have two dogs now--conventional and socially acceptable pets collectively deemed worthy of devotion and emotional investment--but a life is a life is a life is a life, and animals are too pure for the cruelty of humanity.
Recently, my roommate brought home a pair of goldfish. I've never owned fish before, but when he told me that if I didn't want them, he would throw them into a lake, I absolutely insisted he keep them. He asked me to "help" take care of them, and I became their caretaker. I bought them enrichment for their tank, made sure to interact with them, fed them regularly... I never wanted fish, but I couldn't bear the thought of them dying in a wild environment they were wholly unprepared for.
As I cared for them, he commented that they were lively, vibrant, and seemed happy. But in the same breath, he would insist that fish don't have the cognitive capacity to experience pain or sadness or suffering. Regardless of whether this is true, I know they are a living creature, and to stay true to myself, I couldn't allow them to have a boring, miserable life.
But I greatly disliked them.
Goldfish are notoriously disgusting. They're hardy little buggers, but they stink and are prone to parasites and just...not aesthetically pleasing. Because my roommate didn't want them, I know that when I eventually move out, I would have to take the fish with me; and if I'm going to invest my time and energy into a small animal, I want it to be an animal that I'm interested and invested in. I cared for these goldfish out of moral obligation.
So I decided to rehome them.
I found a fish enthusiast who absolutely fell in love with my fish and was very impressed with how well I'd cared for them considering my inexperience. Once the tank was vacated, I scrubbed the supplies down and got a fish that I wanted.
A betta. His name is Beau. I'm utterly enamored with him.
If I had this passion for the goldfish, perhaps things would have been different. I did what I could to assure they'd have happy lives wherever they end up, but I didn't want to risk growing resentful of them and subsequently neglecting them. Perhaps subconsciously hoping they'd die so I could be done with them. It didn't help that my roommate continued to push the idea of using them as bait for fishing.
I am an animal lover, but I am also a flawed human.
When I went searching for the betta I'd take home, I found shelves upon shelves of tiny cups with dead fish. It was heartbreaking. I couldn't stomach it. I didn't know if I wanted to bring one home. I didn't know if I could actually give it a good life after where it had come from.
But then I found Beau. No matter what fish I looked at, I always circled back to him. I couldn't stop thinking about him, so I made the decision to rehome the goldfish and bring him home.
The good news: I have a fish I utterly love.
The other good news: the staff member who was helping me in prepping for Beau actually fell in love with my goldfish and has taken them home for his pond.