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Fishy Dreams

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

In my prime, my life was full of animals. There were ten hens and two goats in the barn, while in the house you couldn’t turn around without some creature wanting to know if it was dinnertime yet: two German Shepherds, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a pygmy marmoset (about whom I will someday bring myself to write about), and a male Betta splendens, aka Siamese fighting fish.

The Betta lived in a 2.5 gallon glass vase in which he trailed his pinkish-gold veils like a miniature Isadora Duncan. I had chosen him based on looks alone, never dreaming that something that resembled a small disheveled flower might also have a personality. It took me a while to realize that when he swam towards me whenever I approached his vase it was not by chance. And when one day I stuck my finger in the water and he came up and rubbed against it, I had to let go of my dread of anthropomorphizing and conclude that he enjoyed being petted.

“Come look at this!” I shouted to my spouse. I put my finger in the vase, the fish came up, and I stroked him gently. “You  try it now,” I said, but no sooner did the tip of his finger enter the water than the Betta fled quivering to the bottom. That evening, some friends came over and I invited them to pet the Betta. What I suspected was true: the Betta had definite gender preferences. He would “tread water” to be stroked by a woman’s finger, but rush to hide under an aquarium plant if the finger belonged to a man. He lived for years on my kitchen counter, eating fish pellets and demanding affection, which I never failed to give him.

At present, my menagerie has shrunk to a dog and a cat. Not only am I deprived of my usual quota of pets and farm critters, but the wild birds that used to somewhat compensate for the absence of chickens vanished when I had to take the feeders down for fear of bears. I have tried to console myself with houseplants, but there I am limited to tough-leaved specimens such as cacti and jade plants,  yuccas and ficuses. This is because my beloved cat, Telemann, being confined indoors, will shred and eat anything fragile, like a fern or a pothos, the minute it comes in the house.

But perhaps I could have another Betta, a successor to the original one, who would inhabit the same flower vase and keep me company while I work at my desk. But here a difficulty arises: Telemann also keeps me company while I write—in fact, he insists on it—and considers my desk his personal domain. I would have to find a lid for the vase to keep him from going fishing, and I would furnish the vase with one of those aquarium “caves” for the Betta to hide in times of stress. I am not a woman who’s intimidated by inter-species behavior issues. I once had a pair of zebra finches in a flight cage in the kitchen, and they coexisted well enough with my Siamese cat to mate, lay eggs, and rear three babies. I can certainly manage the challenge of getting a cat and a fish to get along.

That leaves the question of my sanity. Isn’t it enough to have a dog and a cat who greet me at the door, follow me around the house, sit on my lap, and sleep in my bed? What do I want with another animal? I have no idea. All I know is that, if it were up to me, I would have not just a fish and a dog and a cat, but an aviary full of birds, a second cat, and perhaps (why not?) a tame fox. For a long time I felt embarrassed by this animal addiction, which was not shared by any grownups of my acquaintance. It seemed silly and immature and possibly irresponsible, but there was nothing I could do about it. Now, having reached my twilight years, I’m considering letting go of my embarrassment and embracing my critter compulsion.

As for that potential Betta, I dreamed about him during my nap yesterday. It might be some kind of sign.

(To be continued.)








13 Responses

  1. You just have to be able to physically care for your bunch – then it’s only your decision.

    I’d have to have the husband do >90% of the animal care, and he doesn’t want an animal – so we don’t (he also has piles of paper everywhere). Our three kids have had cats – even though they didn’t have one growing up (there were gerbils, Midnight and Marble, and Peanut Butter, the little mouse, and a snake which escaped into the garden, and a bullfrog tadpole that didn’t quite make it).

    I homeschooled them – I had no extra energy for taking care of pets and making sure the kids learned how.

    When I had asked the husband if he wanted a dog (how the subject came up, I don’t remember), I also asked him who took care of his family dog when he was growing up. His ignorance of the needs of dogs answered that question!

  2. I grew up with parents who never allowed us to have pets. I loved visiting the farm where my grandparents lived right outside of town. Most of the animals on the farm were mules, chickens, goats and cows.

    1. Thanks goodness for your grandparents! Do you remember staying up all night talking in Silver Run, and then going out to milk the goats? One of the highlights of my youth!

  3. I can still my mother’s chagrin when I introduced 8 baby rats into the house. Of course, when they warmed up, they escaped from the box in which I mistakenly thought that were safely imprisoned. “But mother, I found the nest when I was pitching hay and they were so cold!” did not improve her spirits. Fortunately I was afraid of snakes and never brought them into the house!

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