Sunday, March 17, 2013

Foster Fish

I have foster fish in my house, and I am not happy about it.

For those of you just joining us, let me recap some things for you.  About nine months ago, we helped my 87 year old grandmother move into an assisted-living apartment from the large house where she lived for nearly half a century.  While the move has been very positive in many ways, it did require a considerable downsizing, and many, many things had to be left behind in her house.  Among them was her two goldfish.  There is no room for them in her new digs.

In my opinion, fish are slimy creatures with cold, dead eyes, and have about as much personality as a typical member of Congress, so my interest in them is very limited.  Nonetheless, my job is to keep animals alive and healthy, so just flushing two pet fish for which I was mostly responsible was not an option.  Of course we were more than open to anyone who was interested in taking them.  (Insert sound of chirping crickets here.)  So, the fish just stayed back at her house and I kept them in food and clean water until we could figure something out.

When winter came, we drained the water pipes and winterized the place so we could avoid most of the considerable expense of heating except for during the most extremely cold parts of the winter.  Turning off the heat, however, meant relocating my fishy friends, at least for the winter.

A second or third cousin of mine said that she would adopt the fish, but she lives out of the area, and would not be coming to get them until later this year.  So, with much trepidation, I agreed to take them in short term. No one else, it seems, could or would, at least not right now, and I am kind of a pushover.  So, I've got foster fish.

My general dislike of fish as pets and not meals was secondary to my concern about my furry housemates.  With three cats in my house, all of whom have oversize personalities and very little discipline, I was afraid that the two fish were hopelessly outnumbered and destined to become someone’s dinner, especially considering that they live in a small tank that is only slightly heavier than one of the cats when filled.  It would be easy enough for one of them to tip.  Unless I kept the fish on the roof, in a safe, or stayed awake 24/7, I didn't see how I would be able to keep the cats away.

I brought the foster fish into the house and set their tank on the table where it was to stay for the time being.  All three cats gathered around, sitting up high on their haunches, looking not unlike tourists choosing a lobster from the tank at a seafood restaurant.    They could look all they wanted, but sure as heck were not allowed to touch.  Spray bottle in hand, I stepped back to watch how things would unfold.

Stop It (see this post for background on the nicknames of my cats) has a tendency toward being a bit defiant.  This, after all, is the cat who tries to nap on my morning newspaper, every single morning without fail, no matter how many times I scold him.  True to form, he was the first of the three felines to jump up and take a look at our guests.  He sniffed at the tank and batted a paw gently against the side, the inhabitants within doing their level best to ignore him but looking very uneasy all the same.  Stop It’s predatory instincts are strong, and his dislike for being ignored is even stronger.  Fortunately for me, he is also very sensitive, and one squirt with the water bottle sent him scurrying after he started trying to figure out how to pry the top from the tank. He would be back for round two, I was sure.

Get Down, my resident acrobat and the sister of Stop It, is svelte and athletic, relentlessly curious, and hardheaded to boot.  If she wants to do something, she does it and not just halfway. Get Down is all about commitment to a task.  Of my three cats, she is the one I would least want to meet if I was a mouse or goldfish.  She is also smart, and was more than happy to let her brother go first and see what this new thing was all about.  As soon as I squirted her brother and he flew off, Get Down decided it was her turn to scope things out.  She sniffed a little, all the while keeping one eye on me.  As soon as I moved just a little bit, she jumped down, knowing that these fish were some kind of forbidden fruit.  I had no doubt this was not the end of it for her.

Don’t Bite Me, in contrast to the other two, is kind of a fat cat, and not very adventurous unless it involves teasing the others or trying to permanently maim me.  It would take a huge amount of effort for him to even come close to getting up on that table near the fish, so he was the least of my concerns.  I actually held Don’t Bite Me up to the tank to take a look after the others had had their chance, and he was a bit intimidated by the fish.  Fear of the unknown, like fear of the vacuum cleaner, can be a powerful thing.  He has not gone near the tank or the table on which it sits since.

I knew the overnight would be sink or swim for the fish, literally.  It wouldn't be practical to keep the cats or the fish shut behind closed doors whenever I was not around to supervise, so I figured I would just let things shake out however fate deemed them.  I set the spray bottle of water right next to the tank as a warning of sorts before I went up to bed that night, and wished the foster fish Godspeed.

Dread filled me as I made my way downstairs the next morning.  Don’t Bite Me was annoyingly underfoot on the stairs as usual, in giddy anticipation of being fed his breakfast, but the other two cats were nowhere in sight.  Maybe they had already eaten?  I expected a scene of carnage, with scales, bones and water everywhere.

I stepped off the stairs, and there, nested on the clear plastic top of the fish tank, was Get Down, looking quite comfortable.  The fish swimming frantically just inches beneath her in the tank looked anything but.  Stop It had been sitting beside the tank watching the fish with interest, but jumped down when I entered the room.  I shooed Get Down off her perch atop the tank, gave her a small quirt of water just to make clear my disapproval, and decided that an uneasy truce had been formed.  If those cats were going to assassinate the fish, it would have happened that night.  But it didn't.

The cats don’t seem to pay much attention to the fish now, except when I put a pinch of fish food into the tank.  Even then, I think it is only because the fish food comes in a container much like the one their cat treats come in.  From time to time, Get Down can be found sitting on top of the tank, and Stop It will lay on a chair across the room and stare at the fish for long periods, but the truce seems to be holding.  Meanwhile, Don’t Bite Me is only interested in food that doesn't require work.

Spring will be here soon, and the foster fish will be out of here, either to a new home with my relative or back to their old one for the time being.  Even if the cats have more or less accepted them, I have not.  The only fish truly welcome in my house are those on a plate with a squeeze of lemon and some tartar sauce on the side.

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