I was living as a boarder in a house where they had too many pets. The cats and the dog got lots of love but the bunnies and fishes were virtually ignored and weren’t getting adequate care. One day the grandmother, who moved in temporarily while I was living there, brought home a blue Betta fish. I had seen Bettas in pet stores before and always felt deeply saddened and angry for them being trapped in these little tiny cups, displayed like cheap souvenirs rather than the living beings they are. I shook my head in disappointment when I saw the fish and asked her why she’d bought him and she said he looked lonely and she felt bad. She put him in a vase beside her bed with nothing in it but gravel and a plant. The water was cold and untreated, straight from the tap. I knew nothing about these fishes and their needs at the time but I have always known intuitively that all living creatures need space and stimulation and that most, if not all, are meant to live in community with other living beings.
The grandmother went away for a couple weeks once but left the fish in her room. I feared he would be forgotten about so I brought him out into the living area next to the other tank of fishes so he wouldn’t be so all alone. I started to feed him myself every day and I gave him a name because she hadn’t. I called him Blue for his vibrant color and for how I assumed he must feel being stuck in this sad vase. I really regret not having done research at the time about the kind of environment Betta fishes need. To be honest, it made me downright uncomfortable and anxious just looking at the fishes in the tanks and especially him alone in the vase. I thought about how bored and depressed I would be in that same situation.
I started singing to him. The people who lived in the house looked at me like I was kinda nutty. In the morning when I would get up to feed him, he would be at the bottom of the vase. I’d call him by his name and he’d come racing to the surface. I sang songs that I improvised about him in the moment, to lift his spirits. Mostly they were songs about how he was loved and special. I would apologize to him for the situation and promised him I would do something for him if I could. I would also sing him some sanskrit mantras and it quickly became clear that he looked forward to this time we shared. I would bring my face as close to the water as possible. I could see the ripples my sound vibration made in the water so I knew he could feel that vibration too. He would look up at me adoringly and float right under my face, seemingly basking in the sound! I realized that I felt so much affection for him too. I had never felt cuddly toward a fish before. I mean I was already vegan so I would never harm a fish or anyone else, but I didn’t realize I could feel this affection I felt for a fish. I honestly would pick him up and kiss him if it wouldn’t make him feel very scared and uncomfortable!!
One day the grandmother moved out of her daughter’s home, having found a place of her own and left him behind. She didn’t ask anyone to feed him or care for him. Just left him like some forgotten tchotchke. I made him my responsibility, continuing to feed him and sing to him.
When I moved out, I asked if I could take him with me and permission was granted. This was when I began to do my research. I found out that Betta fishes are tropical and need to be in warm, filtered water and that the water needs to be conditioned if it’s coming out of the tap or all the chemicals can harm and eventually kill them. I honestly can’t believe he survived as long as he did in the harmful and inadequate conditions he was in. He lives with me now and is in a large, warm, filtered tank with some enrichments for his interest. I sing to him daily and I believe he is happier but honestly, I still feel bad. I can never replicate the environment he is native to. I don’t feel comfortable getting him a mate as all the research I’ve done makes it seem likely he will harm or kill a tank mate and also I don’t want to support pet stores by buying a living being from them! If I could I would bring him to Southeast Asia and return him to a rice paddy. I just want him to be free and live how he was intended to live. I will do my best by him.