Oh, the Trauma of Goldfish by (3 Stories)

Prompted By Pets

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I can relate completely to the tenuous existence of goldfish as pets to young boys.

My first foray into owning goldfish started well enough, with a large bowl, fresh water, some decorations, and a fresh container of fish food. For the first few days, everything went, well, swimmingly. Finally, though the time came to clean the fishbowl.

Some friends, who had successfully had goldfish for years, had given us the following process for cleaning the fishbowl. (To this day, I don’t know if this is a good procedure or not, but it had worked for them):

  1. fill a bathtub a few inches with water as close to the fishbowl temperature as you can get it (that is, use a TINY bit of warm water to get the water closer to the room-temperature water in the bowl)
  2. put the fishbowl into the tub to get the bowl temperature to match the tub temperature (wait, say, 10-15 minutes for the temperatures to match)
  3. net the goldfish into the tub water
  4. empty the bowl carefully (so as not to lose the decorations, which should be rinsed with fresh water),
  5. clean the bowl
  6. rinse the bowl THOROUGHLY
  7. replace the decorations and fill the bowl with fresh water
  8. put the bowl back into the tub water to bring the temperature of the fresh water close the the tub water
  9. net the fish back into the bowl, remove the bowl from the tub, dry it off, and restore to its position of prominence somewhere in the house.

Armed with our instructions, we eagerly got through steps 1-7, but coming back to the tub with the fishbowl we found the goldfish floating belly up, quite dead.

What could have done this! Surely the water temperature hadn’t been that far off! We felt the water, and it wasn’t hot or cold, it seemed fine! Oh, no, had we gotten some very frail fish with a heart condition that were just not up to the excitement of being taken out of their new home so suddenly?

That was when one of us noticed that the fish had a companion in the tub with them: the bar of Zest soap had fallen from it’s spot at the edge of the tub into the water.  Thus, already sad and guilt-ridden over the death of our new pets, we were further traumatized by knowing that—not only had we killed our fish through negligence—we had done the equivalent of sentencing the poor things to a painful death by gas chamber.

We didn’t try goldfish again. Ever.

Profile photo of Garrett MacArthur Garrett MacArthur

Tags: goldfish, pets
Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. Susan says:

    EVERY story I’ve ever read or heard about keeping fish as pets has ended in similar dark tragedy. Why oh why does hope spring eternal and we keep on trying? Thanks for sharing, enjoyed your story.

  2. I love that we get the instructions, the loss, and then the mystery solved, with guilt and humor.

  3. Lutz Braum says:

    I had fish for a few days, until I got bored and chased them around the tank with the little net that came with the tank. The next day, they all floated belly-up at the water’s surface, exhausted from my ‘game’ the previous day. I never got another pet from my parents. So I can understand your story and feel your pain. Well-written. Thank you for reminding me of a dark chapter of my own childhood! 🙂

  4. Suzy says:

    I have several sad goldfish stories from when my kids were little. And several goldfish graves in our back yard. Even without the Zest soap, I’m sure some other ill would have befallen them.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    No gold fish ever survived in my house either and we weren’t nearly as tender as you were, but neither did we have any floating bars of soap (we never tried the tub approach).

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