Yesterday was a BAD day. I wandered over to the little tank to check on the current bunch of otos I'm quarantining before adding them to the 65-gallon tank, to find one little guy lying on his side at the bottom of the tank. He was still alive and moving, just in some apparent distress.
So I pulled out a large, tall tupperware and put some water in it (I always have water sitting out in old milk jugs to age, for the fish) and added some water treatment chemicals and medicine. I scooped him out using our lovely bong-like fish scoop (see it here: petsmart.com/product_detail) and dropped him into the tupperware, along with a pellet of food. He perked up and swam around the bottom a bit, latched onto the side a couple times, came to rest on the food pellet, and munched a bit. And I, being the eternally hopeful and foolish girl that I am, gave him a name (Charlie) and lavished him with love and conversation and all the good vibes I could muster.
Of course, not long thereafter, Charlie worsened. He wound up unable to remain upright (kept falling on his side), and grew progressively stiffer. I eventually had to face the fact that there was nothing I could do, other than help him end his life with as little suffering as possible. And he *was* suffering. He was trying to move, but unable - his fins and tail kept fluttering, and he would twitch, but his little body was stiff and unresponsive. I could NOT just sit there and wait for him to die, seeing him the way he was.
I had always heard that the most humane way to euthanize a fish is to put it in the freezer, so I put the lid on the tupperware and put him in. But I started thinking that this method isn't all that fast, and might in fact NOT be humane. So (as with all things I don't know) I got online and did some research. As it turned out, the "slow" freezer method isn't the kindest way to put a fish down. The fastest and kindest way to euthanize a fish is by temperature shock, either hot or cold. For a more detailed explanation (as well as several other methods and evaluations of how humane they are), check out this site: saltaquarium.about.com.
Not having any ice or ice water on hand (I don't drink water, and my teeth are sensitive so I don't use ice) I had to get a little creative. I pulled out a tupperware of frozen homemade chicken broth, put it in a bowl, ran cold water over it, and chopped it into chunks. This got the water temperature sufficiently cold enough (in my mind), and I dropped little Charlie in. As far as I can tell, he passed instantly, but he was already very stiff from whatever was ailing him, so I couldn't say for sure. I left him in there a few minutes, and then chopped off his poor little head, just to be certain. Overkill, I know (ha ha NOT funny but what other word is there?), but I had to know it was done beyond a shadow of a doubt.
So two horrible milestones for me in one day. Hell, in one HOUR. I made the decision to euthanize a pet for the first time in my life, and I deliberately killed the most highly evolved animal I ever have. Well, as far as I know - who's to say what constitutes "highly evolved"? That's another discussion though. I've never knowingly, let alone intentionally, taken the life of a vertebrate creature. I've been in the position several times where I *should* have, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, and the guilt has eaten at me since. Now I have a whole different sort of guilt to live with, but I think it's an easier sort, or will prove to be over time anyway. I went and bought a bottle of vodka yesterday to keep in the freezer - if the situation presents itself again, I'll be prepared.
I can't stop crying, and I don't know if it's more for Charlie or me.