I’ve been the owner of a large variety of pets. I’ve owned cats, dogs, galahs, horses, rats, rabbits, chooks and many other species of domesticated and some not so domesticated animals. One pet I’d never owned was a fish as a child. I can’t account for this sad deficiency in my pet owning experiences, but there it was – I’d never owned a fish and that was that. Consequently I knew very little about the care and maintenance of fish when I bought a black, goggled eyed fish and a common gold coloured fish from the pet shop to live in my garden pond at The Oaks. The fish spent their days swimming around, as fish do, and causing us no problems at all. They ate whatever nature provided and the little water fall kept their pond clean and fresh. They were the least bothersome pets I’ve ever owned.
When we sold that property, I decided to pack up the fish and take them with us to our new home as I couldn’t be sure the new owners would prove to be responsible fish owners. For all I knew they might get the whim to drain the pond, leaving the fish high and dry, or take to over feeding them. Leaving the fish with these unknown new owners was definitely fraught with danger from the fish's perspective. My steadfast decision to take them with us caused not a little discussion between Graeme and me, but eventually our differences were resolved and the fish were to accompany us to our next home. I had to buy them a fish tank of course, because I’d put them straight from the plastic bag provided by the pet shop into the pond. I also had to buy a filter, aerator, water-weed and tank decorations. Graeme kept a tally of how much these fifty cent fish were going to cost us and I can tell you it was an impressive sum at the end! They’d not only been my least bothersome pets but also my least expensive ones, but that had all changed now without either of them even lifting a fin.
Once installed in our youngest son’s bedroom in our new home, life for the fish went on uneventfully for some while. Justin duly named them Blackie and Goldie for obvious reasons and I turned my attentions to things other than goldfish. After a time Blackie expired and Goldie was left in sole possession of the tank. Goldie was one of your average boring goldfish in every way except for one small quirk. Goldie was a thrill seeker – the Evil Keneval of the goldfish world. He had everything a goldfish could want to live a happy, fulfilled life. Why then he felt he needed to add excitement to his days by jumping out of his bowl and flopping on the floor until a family member rescued him, I don’t know, but jump out of his tank he did with alarming regularity. He must have enjoyed the sensation of the blood rushing to his little fishy brain, or the rush of adrenaline that followed finding himself in an inhospitable environment because he continued to jump out of his tank until steps were taken to make exiting his watery habitat impossible. The answer to curbing Goldie’s adventures was easy. We simply placed a thin piece of wood to act as a lid on top of his bowl. There was always the worry at the back of my mind that Goldie would give himself concussion by constantly hitting his little head against the lid, but that was the chance we had to take.
Justin, who was about four at the time, was officially Goldie’s owner. Goldie lived in Justin’s bedroom so he claimed the equivalent of a sort of reverse squatters’ rights and made himself personally responsible for Goldie’s welfare. It was Justin who fed Goldie each day or stopped for a chat with the fish every now then on his way in or out of his bedroom. Goldie accepted all these little attentions with calm good will and a swish of his tail, in between butting his head against his new tank lid.
And so our days rolled on with barely a thought by any of us about goldfish in general or Goldie in particular. Until one night when Justin had been up and down throughout the night with asthma. I staggered into his bedroom around 2 o’clock in the morning (I’m not a morning person at the best of times – 2.00 a.m. is in my opinion the worst of times!) to check on his latest bout of coughing. Justin was in fact improving and I began to think that with any luck I might just be able to get back to bed and stay there this time. As I began to gratefully return to my own bed Justin sat up in bed “What’s that on the floor?” he asked. “Nothing. Go to sleep,” I answered. I didn’t care if it was a tarantula (and I’m arachnophobic!), I was not going to be kept from my bed. Then I looked at the small, shiny figure lying on the floor and realised that bed was going to have to wait a little longer. I’d forgotten to replace Goldie’s tank lid when I had relieved the wheezing Justin of feeding duties and fed Goldie myself earlier that evening. Goldie was obviously up to his old tricks and thrill seeking again. Only tonight he’d mistimed his fishy equivalent of a Bungy Jump and leaped from his tank in the middle of the night. There he lay expiring before my eyes and worse still, before Justin’s eyes.
Not knowing how long Goldie had been lying on the floor (or how I’d managed not to step on him when I first came into the room); I approached the sad, flat little figure with real trepidation. Just as I was about to pick him up and begin my soothing speech about Goldie being in goldfish heaven, he gave a weak little flip of his tail. Goldie wasn’t dead!
“He’s alive Justin,” I said in my most reassuring voice. “I’ll just pop him back in the tank and everything will be fine.”
I duly popped him back in his tank but everything was far from fine. Goldie just sort of slowly sank to the bottom of the tank and lay on the gravel in much the same fading-fast look in his eyes as when I found him on the carpet – looking doomed and deflated. I lifted him out of the water quickly and tried poking him gently with my finger while my more rational self asked what I thought I was doing at this ungodly hour of the morning. In my sleep deprived mind I was administering external heart massage or some such thing and I didn't even know where a fish kept it's heart.
Poking unsurprisingly had no effect whatsoever. He continued to lie limply in my hand looking like the only thing I could do for him was administer his last rights. It was obvious that I was running out of time and ideas for saving Goldie – he was quite literally almost at his last gasp. In a last ditch effort I called on all my first aid training and began to administer mouth to gill resuscitation. After all what did I have to lose except my dignity and credibility, and at that time of the morning I doubted if I had either anyway. Graeme by this time had heard Justin’s and my desperate tones when we first found Goldie and he wondered what was going on. He wandered in to see what we were up to and came face to face with his wife desperately blowing in a fish’s gills.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked not unreasonably.
“I’m saving Goldie,” I replied between puffs.
“Do you honestly think that’s going to work?” Graeme said.
I hadn’t stopped to consider the odds of saving an oxygen-deprived fish by blowing in its gills, but I gamely replied, “It’s worth a try.”
“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!” said Graeme as if giving mouth to gill resuscitation should only be carried out during office hours. There was no appropriate answer to this statement so I saved my breath to give to Goldie and continued goldfish C.P.R.
After blowing into Goldie’s gills every few puffs, I then dunked him in his tank and tried sort of swishing him round a bit with my finger, ignoring my brain which was desperate to shut down for the night. Finally I put Goldie back into his tank and prevented him from sinking by the simple expedient of placing two fingers under his middle. By guiding him back and forth through the water, accompanied by Graeme’s exasperated and disbelieving comments, I was able to get Goldie to first float and then to swim on his own. I’d saved Goldie and won Justin’s undying gratitude. Well, undying for the rest of that day anyway. I was able to get back to bed with a clear conscience. Before setting off for bed I made sure of one thing - the lid was firmly placed on Goldie’s cage.
It would be great if the story ended there. Unfortunately there was an unexpected sequel. After Goldie’s mid-night rambles I began to worry that he was too cramped in his little tank. I co-erced the family into helping me make a large garden pond so that Goldie could return to more spacious accommodation. Now if you think back to the beginning of this story you’ll find that I freely admitted to knowing very little about the care and maintenance of a gold fish. As soon as the pond was finished we plonked Goldie into the water, carefully allowing him to slowly adjust to the change inwater temperature by scooping him out of his tank and placing him a plastic bag with a generous amount of tank water (I knew that much at least!). What I didn’t know was that the water in the pond should have been left for a couple of weeks. Apparently something in the fresh concrete (that’s as technical as I can get) poisons fish, if said fish are plonked in by unsuspecting owners, straight after the concrete has set. Goldie and I found this out the hard way the next morning.
Even mouth to gill resuscitation was useless this time.