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Slices of Life: The circle of life - Stay golden, Spot

We are losing a fish. 

It’s happened before. We are fish people and fish sometimes die. It’s the whole circle of life thing: Humans typically live longer than pets. Unless your pet is a tortoise.

Even though we’ve been through this before with other goldfish — and an occasional bullhead or two — no two fish are the same and each time it’s difficult. No matter how little you believe goldfish matter in the big scheme of things, at our house they do. And either way, seeing one clearly sick and probably dying is not pleasant for anyone. 

Often the death comes fairly quickly. A fish loses the ability to swim or balance and floats near the top of the water. This wasn’t the case with Spot, who got his (her?) name because of an obvious physical characteristic.

He lingered at the bottom of the tank, resting, semi-floating atop a large flat rock. A day later he started leaning to the left, as though it was difficult to stay upright. The next day he was lying on his side, still at the bottom of the tank. 

I googled remedies as fast as my fingers could type and tried various methods, but the consensus was that our Spot was soon to lose his spot in our tank.

He’s been living with us for the last four years. The other goldfish in our tank are a year older. They all came from local fairs — the kind you win by throwing a ping-pong ball into a tiny fish bowl. Humble beginnings. But over the years, Spot and his tankmates have grown on us. They gravitate to the side of the tank each morning when they see me approach because they know it’s time for breakfast. They’ve got big, beautiful eyes and even bigger beautiful tails. 

We had differing opinions on how to approach Spot’s situation. Some thought we should speed the process. They saw it as shortening Spot’s suffering. Others in the house couldn’t imagine killing him — because in essence that is what it would be. 

After considerable discussion we decided premature flushing was not the answer. That left us in limbo. Waiting for the inevitable.

This went on for a couple of long and lingering days. He remained at the bottom of the tank and just when I thought maybe he’d passed over the rainbow goldfish bridge, he’d wiggle from one spot to another and I knew he still had at least a little bit of life left in him. 

His tankmates were clearly aware of his situation. They tried to revive him by nudging him with their noses. We worried that they might be disturbing him and discussed moving him into a separate tank, but then decided that moving might be stressful, so we left him in his spot and protected him with a net.

By the fourth morning, it was clear. He was gone. I gathered him in the net and we all gathered in the bathroom to complete the final flushing process. Spot was just a goldfish, but he was our goldfish. We were committed to giving him the best that we could — in life and in death.

And I guess in the big scheme of things that means something — something golden.

— Jill Pertler’s column Slices of Life appears regularly in the Times. She can be reached at