I have had pets most of my life. Granted the early part of my life we really shared family pets, but we considered them ours as well. When I moved out on my own, there was a brief period of time I had no pets. When I got married the first time I ended up with a dog and two cats and for a time there was a bird, a newt and some other assorted wildlife in the house at one time or another. So I have had experience with most types of pets, but the successful care of one type of animal has eluded me.

I have come to the conclusion that if it has legs, I'm a good parent/caretaker but when it comes to fish, my track record is not so good. Sometimes I wonder if there is a wanted poster in some aquatic post office with my mug slapped on it with a caption like "Don't go home with this dude or it's the end of the road for you."

When I got married the first time, we eventually had a dog and two cats. Sometime later I decided to try my hand at fish at the request of my stepson who had a pyramid tank. The directions were clear. In a tank that size, six fish were recommended. We went to the pet shop and bought six neon tetras to live in the tank. Life was grand. The fish swam around happily. The world was at peace.

We went to the pet shop the next week and decided to get one more fish. "What could it hurt?," I thought assuming the direction to be more a recommendation. The existing fish seemed happy so I believed one more fish would be accepted without an issue. It turns out the directions really were directions. Within one day of adding the extra fish, the population seemed to go haywire and the next thing I know all the fish were dead. Thus ended my marine caretaking career for several years, that is until earlier this summer.

My daughter Kathryn decided she wanted to be a caretaker for some fish so we talked about it as a family and decided it might be a good way to teach responsibility and caring for a pet. When we were at a local big box store, we explored the tanks and thought a small one might be a good way to start so $60 later we had a couple decorations, a tank, gravel, food and other necessities. We followed the directions and set up the tank, de-chlorinated the water and carefully made sure it was the proper temperature then left it run for a few days to get the water conditioned.

That Friday, we went back to the store to purchase the fish. Kathryn decided to buy four tetra. We also bought a plastic bowl to place them in to bring them home. When we got home, we placed the bag in the tank to let the fish adjust to the water and after about a half hour, we released them into their new home. We fed them a little bit that first night and went to bed.

Everything seemed copacetic for the first two days, but then one of the fish performed a disappearing act. We searched the whole tank including in the little Squidward house that we bought for the centerpiece. No fish though. The only place not checked was the filter compartment, but we couldn't figure out how it could have swam up and into the filter. Talk about my naiveté. We flipped open the lid and removed the cartridge and there was the little one looking quite lifeless.

We explained to Kathryn the fish must have been sick and he couldn't survive so he went to fish heaven. We wrapped him in a toilet paper shroud and placed him gingerly in the bowl. A few improvised words to introduce Kathryn gently into the concept of life and death and a little prayer and with a flush off went the fish to the great pond. I was proud of her. She took it like a trooper up until a minute after she processed what we just did, and then the tears flowed and she ran to mommy. They didn't last long but I explained to her this was a part of life, and that we could get another fish the next weekend.

She waited until the following Friday and we returned to the store and bought the next neon tetra along with a snail. Kathryn promptly named the snail Speedy and we placed him in the tank and he started zipping around. By the way, I picked the snail out and I was very particular since it was the fastest one moving around the tank. Fast by snail standards. Things seemed great finally and the momentary loss of the first tetra was like a brief blip in the fishbowl of marine life, until we noticed this neon seemed to have a special appearance with white spots.

I said to Katie that I never saw a neon with white spots and we thought maybe we actually were given a different species. That thought lasted until my wife's curiosity and her Google search turned up some disturbing information. The fish might have "Ick", a parasite that was about to make life much more interesting and our aquarium cube an incubator of mayhem. Enter Dan from Jim Thorpe pet supply our comforter and counselor and a downward spiral that made the next week much more interesting and not in a good way. Next week I will share how I learned how hard fish can be.

Til next time…