The humble goldfish

Most people probably don’t give goldfish a lot of consideration, but I think the humble goldfish represents a lot of the animal issues vegans and animal activists are trying to solve.

Thomas Benjamin Kennington FishbowlFirst domesticated in China in the 10th century, goldfish aren’t captured, killed and eaten like their wild cousins, the carp. But pet goldfish don’t always have it easy either.

For a lot of kids, a goldfish is a first pet–the “test” animal to see if they’re ready for a dog or cat. Goldfish are seen as a simple creature with minimal needs, but the reality is they are smart and complex. They can recognize people, be trained to perform tricks, and can identify shapes and colors.

They are social creatures who enjoy other goldfish, and need at least 10-20 gallons of water with an enriched habitat and water filter, but they often languish alone in small, dirty fishbowls.

It may seem like goldfish are short-lived animals but they will live up to ten years if looked after properly. Inadequate care is likely the cause of most of their early deaths.

Unlike other pets, when a goldfish dies, he or she is often simply flushed down the toilet. Why grieve such a “disposable” pet? Some people don’t even wait for their pet fish to die. The toilet or local pond is seen as a good way to deal with an unwanted fish.

There are very few animals that a person can win at the fair, and the goldfish is one of them. It’s easy to see why people wouldn’t give proper care to a fish they didn’t plan on having.

Goldfish swallowing contests might conjure up frat prank from the 1950, but it’s still sometimes practiced. And though I think it’s an urban legend or attempt at humor, the goldfish platform was supposedly a style in the ’70s. Fortunately I’ve seen only replicas, complete with plastic fish.goldfish shoes

A large percentage of goldfish are raised as feeders for bigger fish and other animals like turtles. So while we might not eat them, goldfish are still raised for food.

Selectively bred for color, shape, and other unique characteristics. Like other domesticated animals, turkeys for example, some types of goldfish have been so modified that they cannot breed on their own. Humans have intervened to such an extent that they need to keep intervening for certain subspecies to continue to exist. Ironic, eh?

It’s not just goldfish who are mistreated, ignored and trivialized. Our attitudes toward all animals should be questioned. The goldfish symbolizes a bigger problem with our relationship with animals.

4 thoughts on “The humble goldfish

  1. I’m glad you wrote about the humble goldfish. Millions of people care about whales and dolphins, because they are large, majestic creatures. Elephants and rhinos make the news, again these are large and some are endangered species (that makes their lives more valuable. right?).

    But why care about small, “insignificant” goldfish that are plentiful and you can buy for a dime a dozen?

    Life is life. That little goldfish loves its life just the same as any animal does. They need space and freedom to swim too. They deserve better than a dirty little fishbowl, often neglected because nobody really cares if they live or die.

    Loving animals, means loving all animals. ♥

    • You’re right. Life is life. Goldfish enjoy theirs too. It’s a bad lesson to teach kids that they don’t matter or that they don’t count. Practice with the fish before you get a dog.

      I think “dumb” animals deserve the same respect, but it turns out that goldfish aren’t dumb! Of course humans rank animals on our own system. But I can’t fly like a bird, live in water like a fish, or hibernate like a turtle. Who’s more capable, really?

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