My Betta is in hospice.
For weeks he\’s been lying at the bottom of the big vase that\’s been his home for the last four years. His veil-like fins are ragged and torn, and the iridescent blue scales on his tiny body have turned the color of sand. Every morning I look at him and think, it\’s all over now, he\’s finally dead. But as I stand there rehearsing burial scenarios I\’ll catch the flicker of an eye, or the slight shudder of a pectoral fin.
I bought him because he looked like a flower, with his creamy trailing fins veined with pink and blue, and his bright azure body. And then I discovered that he wanted a relationship.
At first I only noticed that whenever I went near his vase, which I kept on the kitchen counter, he would swim towards me. Then one day I idly stuck my index finger in the water and he swam straight to it. I wiggled my finger and stroked a fin, then stroked again, and he stayed right there, like a dog. After that I felt obliged to give him daily stroking sessions. How could I not? He was so much more than a flower.
\”Want to pet my fish?\” I would ask my friends. And they would stick their fingers in and my Betta would swim up to them–but he only swam towards female fingers. Let a male of any age, no matter how mild, put his finger in and the Betta would swish his lacy tail and swim away.
Now he\’s dying. Every time I walk by his vase I think, he\’s probably suffering. He\’s ancient for a captive Betta, and he\’ll never recover. I should probably euthanize him. But the days pass and I can\’t seem to do it. Mind you, I have in the past done the right thing by my old and suffering dogs and cats, and taken them to the vet to be put down. I have personally clubbed to death wolf spiders that were bigger than my Betta, and in the prime of life. But this is different.
So for the moment, I\’m giving my fish palliative care, trying to keep him comfortable but avoiding extreme measures. I change his water regularly. I make sure his heater is on. And now and then I look into his eyes, which still appear to look back at me, and I tell him that he\’s the most amazing fish I\’ve ever known, and that it\’s all right to let go.