Outside of work, I’ve lived with literally hundreds of animals, but all of that since leaving home at age 16. I spent childhood begging, unsuccessfully, for a pet. Rather than a pet-less childhood, however, it’s more accurate to say there were no pet-able pets. There was, however, Spot. Spot was a truly great fish.
Age 9, I remember a trip to Sal’s Fish Emporium for a glass tank, a plastic clam shell which regularly opened releasing bubbles and exposing a pirate’s skeleton, and an assortment of mismatched but oh so beautifully colored fish. That mismatch was no small problem, however. One roundish black and white fish, no bigger than his roommate guppies and mollies, was all mouth. He ate the flake food sprinkled twice daily. He ate the live plants. He chewed up the plastic ones and nibbled the bright orange gravel. He did unspeakable things to the skeleton. And he ate all the other fish. This beast, it turned out, was a South American member of the Cichlid family, an Astronotus ocellatus more commonly called Oscars. Sal, the proprietor of the aforementioned Emporium, did not tell us that this fish, unoriginally named “Spot”, would quickly outgrow his home and eat anything that would fit into his rather cavernous maw. It was all pretty complicated but no way was I giving up the one pet I finally landed (so to speak)!
Spot’s tanks grew along with him, the myth of a limited tank size limiting the growth of its inhabitants proving false, finally to something the size of my dresser. Obviously kept solo, I never did think he was lonely since Spot came to know me. He’d dash to the surface to gently nibble goodies from my fingers while I stroked his head. He’d follow my fingers around the tank in a game of chase. I tried fetch without success, and roll-over in the fish world is not a good thing, but he was my pet, my first pet, and I loved him. Spot and his tank eventually became the centerpiece of my college dorm room, and then moved off-campus with me into my first real home. He died there, a long-lived and deeply loved friend, the first of my many companion animals.