Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How we dealt with (and survived) the death of a pet


For Miss K's birthday this  year, my little sister Kimberley gave her two goldfish. I hadn't been warned about this prior, so it was a surprise for both of us. She gleefully informed me as she handed over the little tank she was actually going to buy her a goat, but decided fish was a more practical gift idea. For that fact I am forever grateful.

Now anyone who knows me knows I have bad luck with animals. Of course my bad luck is not as bad as my little brother Ben's bad luck with animals, he was headbutted by a trout once, as he peered into a lake, an accomplishment I am yet to match. But given my track record with animals, and my seeming inability to keep them alive was well recorded when these fish were made a part of our family. To date I have had a total of three dogs, one cat, one guinea pig and two fish as pets. My first dog died of pavo virus as a puppy, which absolutely broke my heart at the time. The next two dogs were a blue heeler and a boxer, both given to me to replace the original dog. I lived in a tiny two bedroom flat at the time, which any dog lover will tell you is a terrible place for such large and energetic dogs to live, so I had both of them re-housed fairly quickly. The cat ran away after a few months, but I think I still see it wandering around the area occasionally, so I can only assume it found a new home close by. Our guinea pig died from exposure one night when I didn't secure the tarp around his cage tightly enough and it was blown off by strong winds. So I didn't have high hopes for these fish. Sure enough the first fish died within a month of becoming our pet, a fact which I now understand probably stems from being put in a tank too small for two fish. Live and learn. The fact that the second goldfish survived a further 8 months with us is nothing short of a miracle.

The fish were named Yes and No. This is what happens when you let a four year old name animals. Yes was the fish that survived the longest, and let me tell you, keeping a fish alive is actually harder than it looks. We dealt with two cases of swimmers bladder, and I suspect it was a bacterial infection that got him in the end. During his time with us I learned that a whole flake of fish food is waaay too much for a fish to eat, especially given they need no more than a piece of food the size of their eye several times a week. I also found out you can cure constipation in fish with peas, a fact which disgusted Miss K given her pure hatred for the little green balls. He had been sick for three days this time, and nothing I was doing helped. It became inevitable after day two that Yes' days were indeed numbered, so that day as I noticed Miss K staring at Yes, watching his weird sideways swim around the tank I let her know that Yes was going to die soon. I told her he was really sick this time, and she needed to realise we weren't going to have a fish for very much longer. She nodded very quietly then asked me for a drink.

Over the next two days we spoke occasionally about Yes, she was worried he was in pain, but given I am poorly informed about the pain tolerance of the average goldfish, I told her he wasn't feeling anything right now, This may have been a lie, I still have no idea, but I didn't want death to be scary for her, I just needed her to understand it is a part of life. Luckily for me Yes kindly waited until she was asleep last night to die. I went in to check on him before I went to bed and after five minutes of tapping walls and agitating the water I was indeed satisfied I had a dead fish on my hands. I disposed of everything there and then, I didn't think it was kind letting Miss K see what a dead fish looked like, so when she woke up this morning the bench that had housed Yes' tank was empty. She stared at the empty space for ages, almost like she thought her eyes were lying to her, and the tank was still there. She turned to me and said "the fish is gone." I simply nodded, I couldn't think of what to say. She asked if Yes died and I simply nodded again. I'm sure another person could have used this opportunity to give a speech on the gift of life, or say something reassuring about Yes' suffering being over, but mourning the death of a fish is something I'm sadly inexperienced in so I simply said nothing. She stared at the space for another few seconds before she turned to me and asked for another fish. For the love of God please no.

I have actually since Googled how to deal with the loss of a pet with children, and they all say don't replace the pet straight away, as it makes the child feel disloyal. Apparently Miss K is plagued by no such burdens and is keen to move on to the next victim pet. I for one am still exhausted from the task of keeping one small fish alive for so long, and have now decided that the degree of difficulty in caring for a pet is directionally in proportion to the size of it. The smaller the animal is, the more trouble it will give you. To remedy this, I have decided the next pet we will have must be an elephant. Surely something that large must be a walk in the park. Otherwise I am happy for people to start gifting Miss K with pet rocks from now on.

If any of you have actually had to deal with a grieving child, give me your tips below, I'm sure as Miss K gets older this is something that will really need to be dealt with, as she wont be so easily distracted by shiny things for much longer.
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