Monday, April 4, 2011

A Race To End Cannibalism

I had a very traumatic experience yesterday.  I found myself in the middle of a race to end a cannibalistic attack that left me exhausted and shaken.  It was "fish buying day".  The day we had promised our son that he could pick out three new fish for the aquarium that he was given for Christmas.  The whole snail thing didn't last long and he was promised fish to replace them. 

We don't like the pet store we have in town, it smells horrible, is overcrowded, dirty, and doesn't seem like a very good place to buy a pet, though we purchased our two rabbits from there a few years ago and the snails that I've already mentioned.  There aren't any other pet stores open on a Sunday within a good 75 to 100 mile radius, so we headed over the mountain to the Walmart Supercenter in the next town to buy his fish. 
He had his heart set on a "Puffer" which is a fresh water fish that looks just like the salt water version, minus the spikes and the ability to actually puff.  We chose two other fish that the label under the Puffer said were compatible. 

We were smart enough to choose our other purchases first, selecting the fish just before checking out, but the store was packed and only three ordinary and three "20 items or less" registers were open when we got to a checkout line.  Of course we had the slowest clerk in discount store history, of course, my son's gift card that he was using to buy other things didn't work and a CSM had to be called, of course they were under-staffed on such a busy weekend day and the CSM took a good 10 minutes to arrive, and of course we forgot a very important item that my husband and children ran back to get while I waited on a bench with our cart full of purchased groceries, holding a bag of fish. 

While I waited, wondering how long fish could stay in a bag, knowing it had already been 15 to 20 minutes and we still had a 45 minute drive ahead of us, two little toddlers, cute as buttons, were climbing up and down the bench I was sitting on using my leg and arm to get up and down.  I smiled politely at them and their parents, but was struggling to keep the fish bag from shaking and sloshing too much. 

Another ten minutes or so passed, and I couldn't see my family in any of the checkout lines.  Through all of the commotion of being used as a ladder while trying to hold the bag still, I would feel the bag shake from the inside and was happy that at least my son had chosen the most active fish from the each of the tanks, and his aquarium viewing hobby wouldn't be as short-lived as it had been during the whole snail incident.  Have you ever watched snails moving around?  It took us at least a week, no joke, to decide if they were actually dead or not.  They were...very much so.

I finally decided, after another ten minutes of waiting and being unable to see my family anywhere from my post, that I needed to call my husband and remind him that we had fish we needed to get home.  I don't remember how I managed to hold the bag, dig my phone from my purse and dial, but I do remember saying, "I have fish.", when he answered.  He laughed a little, like I'd thought he'd forgotten, which of course I had, and I told him that we had some active fish and I could feel them moving every once in a while.

Not long after I ended the call, I saw my husband and the boys in the far "20 items or less" line and decided to see what all the commotion in the fish bag was about.  Well, the largest and most beautiful fish was missing a tail and dorsal fin and I immediately realized why when I witnessed the Puffer attacking him over and over again, literally eating him alive.  I knew the next bite would take a chunk out of his flesh and I couldn't bear to watch it.  The race was on!

Again, I don't remember how I managed while holding the bag or even if I took my purse and the cart with me, but I carried the fish bag across the front of the store to where my husband was in line.  He smiled sweetly when he saw me, but knew something was wrong by the look on my face.  I said I needed the receipt, but didn't really want to say in front of my son what the problem was.  I realized that if I was going to get the Puffer out of the bag and return him, that I'd have to tell him why, so quickly I told them, got the receipt and hurried to customer service.  There was a line.  I skipped ahead and asked if I could hurry back to the fish dept. to have the fish guy take a fish out that was eating another one in the bag.  My husband popped around the corner and I gave him the receipt to let him deal with the girl behind the register when she nodded for me to go, and rushed back to the fish tanks.  

Somehow along the way, I managed, after a few more attacks from the Puffer, to section off the injured fish in one corner of the bag until I reached the fish dept.   I have never seen anyone near the fish department, but of course at this critical moment, there was a line.  The good news was, the fish guy was right there so I didn't have to go all the way to the sports department to have them send someone over.  I was willing to wait for the three people in front of me until my hand slipped and the little, hurt fish was in danger again.  I couldn't get him separated from the Puffer, and the Puffer was ready to attack.  I jumped to the front and explained my situation to the lady next in line and she told me to go ahead of her.  Fish guy said he was afraid that the Puffer would attack the others when he put him in there earlier.  Why didn't you warn us, I wondered, but didn't say anything.  I did mention, while he struggled with the knot on the fish bag, that they should not list fish on the signs as compatible if they are not. 

So, the fish was saved, they gave us our money back for the Puffer, and even though I was sure the little injured fish couldn't survive the night without his tail or dorsal fin, my son decided he wanted to take him home anyway, to see if he would make it.  I thought that was a nice thing to do, but didn't tell him that I was sure that if we returned him too, that he would be flushed down the nearest commode.

What amazes me about this whole little incident is that I can go fishing with the intention of hooking a fish by the mouth and gutting it before fileting and eating it, but I was so upset by watching this silly little aquarium fish being cannibalized by another that I had to do something, immediately, to try to stop it.  I was worried about my son and how it would affect him to have his pets simply eat each other, but it was just plain awful to watch.  Will this have any effect on my desire to purchase my annual fishing license and stomp along the banks of a creek in search of dinner?  Not at all, but I will still always be squeamish about putting live bait on a hook and I will do my research before purchasing any other aquarium fish.

The little guy refused to name his injured fish, wanting to wait to see if he was still alive in the morning.  Today the fish has a name, Guppy, but is bleeding near his tail a bit now.  He seems active so we are feeling hopeful.


  1. OMG I am so glad you realized what was going on before you got all the way home.

  2. Great story. :)
    How's Guppy doing?
    Did he make it through the night?

  3. Poor little thing made it through four nights. Fish funeral in the a.m.