Just as a warning, there is going to be a lot of fish death in the next 700 or so words.
It is not premeditated fish death. It was definitely accidental fish death. But it's a lot of death. Of course you come to expect this sort of death when you get fish, when you enter into that binding, implicit animal-ownership contract that says "I have been tricked into coming to PetSmart, and I'll be damned if we're leaving here with a puppy." Fish are supposed to be impermanent. That's why you got them. You got them because you're not good at real pets, because dogs seem like an awful lot of work, because someone in your house is allergic to cats, because hamsters are not that fun really and because snakes are out of the question for obvious reasons, not the least of which is that they might be a horcrux.
So while the net result of what I'm about to tell you is the same: Many fish are about to die. Just not on purpose, and kind of all at once. I also just realize I made a net pun, but I like it, so I'm leaving it.
The fish tank had been, for months, in need of cleaning, and by "in need of cleaning" I mean "The bottom layers had the color and consistency of a bottle of Yoo-Hoo." OK, I exaggerate, it wasn't that awful, but there were starting to be some fuzzy parts, and the filter needed to be replaced. But have you ever actually tried to replace a fish tank filter? There are like DOZENS of different kinds of those things! And they're all different sizes and some of them have little blue rocks in them! It's all very confusing, which is why the clear way to go is ignore the problem completely until you actually start to become disappointed in yourself.
(We had an algae-eater fish in there that we hadn't seen in so long that we'd come to believe it was eaten and cannibalized by the other fish. This was a solid and gruesome theory that missed only one key facet: Fish have bones. Ask any Looney Tunes cartoon, it's right there.)
So we decided to clean it, BECAUSE WE'RE RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERS, which is important to keep in mind when reading this next part about how we apparently added some water-cleaning chemical that cleaned the water by killing off most of the animals that were living in it. Yeah, we're really not sure at this point what went wrong; there have been a lot of wild accusations about "Who added what" and "Was this cleaning product expired" and "What's the difference between two drops and two quarts anyway?" But the fact is, we either accidentally executed a number of previously healthy fish, or, as my 9-year-old theorized, "Maybe they all got a virus at the same time?" YEP. YEP THAT'S IT, DEFINITELY THE VIRUS.
Page 2 of 2 - It's not all bad news though: I am happy to report that the algae-eater survived, as did the frog, although I'm pretty sure he was looking at me suspiciously for a while, saying things like "Do you guys even know how to read labels?" in his best angry-but-happy-to-be-alive frog voice. And a few of the hardier fish survived the chemical influx as well, although two of them seem to have developed tentacles and a third speaks pretty decent Spanish now.
Happily also, this little circle-of-life story was largely lost my 9-year-old, who I'm pretty sure still believes the fish all caught a freak simultaneous cold or something. One trip to Petco later, and we have reasonably well-restocked party of glowfish to hang out with the frog, the algae-eater and the original survivors. And to those new fish, I make this solemn vow: We will never, ever try to clean your tank again.
Jeff Vrabel is allergic to cats, which is why we're doing all this nonsense with the fish. He can be reached at http://jeffvrabel.com and followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.