Séamus, 2006-2010

Roughly two weeks ago, I came home from a dinner out with Eric (at Jaleo, which was absolutely delicious), to find my pet Betta dying. I was devastated. He had been acting a bit stranger in his old age, but now it was clear he was on his way out. I was relieved when he was still alive the next day, but he died by lunchtime. As the owner of more than 50 fish over the past five and a half years, I’m well aware that the little guys don’t always last so long. Bettas are hardier than most when properly taken care of, but even their time is pretty short — a typical normal life span is about two years. Yet Seamus’s loss hit me hard.

It would probably be pretty difficult for anyone who has never loved and lost a little animal like a fish to understand what is so special about a pet this tiny. After all, fish have no memories, no personality, and can’t even feel pain, right? Wrong. Studies have proven all of these statements are not true. You can even train some fish to swim through hoops! And Seamus knew who I was. At times, he would swim into my hand for me to flip him out of his bowl during his water changes. Other times, he’d get mad and go sulk behind one of his favorite bamboo leaves, and only come out when he saw the net in the water. He learned that the sound of the food container shaking meant little pellets were about to drop. He would even come out from a nap curled up in the bamboo plant’s roots just to watch me when I came in the kitchen to wash dishes, sometimes bobbing his head out of the water as if to say, “Well, where’s my lunch?” I loved his cantankerous, spirited personality. Even as he was dying, he still made it up to the surface to peer at me when I checked on him.

Granted, as a bleeding-heart animal lover, I am probably more sensitive than most. When I worked as a bookstore cashier, a big beetle flew onto my register. Afraid that one of the people in line would see it, freak out and smash it, I quietly herded the beetle into my drawer, then carried him outside on a break. It’s probably that softie nature of mine that caused me to get Seamus in the first place when I saw him at the Christiansburg Wal-Mart in summer 2006. I am not a Wal-Mart fan anyway, but it broke my heart to go in there with my friends and see all the sick, dying fish. I even sent them an angry email once about the way their stores treated the fish. (A litany of similar complaints caused them to abandon the practice not long after I bought Seamus.) When I saw Seamus, he was the lone healthy Betta for sale. I couldn’t stand the thought of this gorgeous creature meeting the same fate as the others, and I took him home. Yes, I knew I was just supporting the practice with my dollars, but his zippy personality begged for a better environment, and that’s what I gave him. Now, there are many theories regarding the proper care of Bettas, but I personally believe it to be a complete falsehood that they live best in tiny, shallow puddles or cramped containers. Sure, a Betta COULD live that way for a while, if he had to — but you see those long fins? Those aren’t meant to be confined. Seamus lived far longer than Bettas who have almost no room to move about, which gives them fin rot anyway. He was stunningly beautiful, and he brought me much joy.

Seamus lived a good life. Rest in peace, buddy.

Photo by Evan Valentine

6 responses to “Séamus, 2006-2010

  1. This is an outstanding memorial to Seamus and one of the best, maybe THE best, things you've written. It came straight from the heart. Very moving. The equally outstanding photo of Seamus is the perfect accompaniment to your article.love you,Aunt Vinson

  2. The Mapless Traveler

    Thanks Aunt V 🙂 Evan took it while fish-sitting for us while we were in Hilton Head; he's an outstanding photographer.

  3. This is a nice post about your pet fish, Seamus (Mom helped by know how to pronounce his name). I think its publication-worthy. He was a great little guy, and certainly lived a happy life for a long time in fish years. Great picture by Evan! I'll bet some fish-fancier magazine would be interested in your article.

  4. Excellent idea Bro! I think a fish magazine would love this. Aunt V

  5. RIP Seamus — a very nice fish. I have loved and lost a fish myself and I still miss my Oliver. He had so much personality. Even in his final illness, he would always keep himself positioned so that he could see me wherever I was in the room.

    Fish DO have the capacity to learn, have memories, and feel pain, which has been found, as you mentioned, in several studies. Once again, we humans, with our delusions of grandeur, have underestimated an animal’s capacity for emotion and feeling…

    I am so very sorry for your loss, brat. GOOD FOR YOU for taking a stand and writing to Wal-Mart about those poor fish. It always made me sick to see them in there in those tiny bowls. They looked so sad and hopeless. I’m glad you rescued one of them.

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