How do I deal with a dead fish?

Lesley - posted on 01/10/2012 ( 13 moms have responded )

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My 9 yr old daughter's beta fish died while we were away on a 2 week vacation. I had told her to clean his tank and put out some extra food but she did neither. When I learned of this, I contacted her aunt who went to our house to feed him. Sadly, when we returned home, the fish is long dead and decomposing. I believe it is more from the unclean water and the fact that she had placed a dead starfish in his tank (unbeknownst to me). In any event, it is very likely, it was not natural causes/old age that killed him.

My question is threefold.
1. Do I dispose of the smelly fish and clean up the tank before she gets home from school or wait and have her help me do it after.

2. Do I let her believe that the fish dying was not her fault or should I be honest with her that it was likely the lack of care and then support her and help her work through her guilt? My fear with complete honesty is that she'll be devestated that she caused his death; however, if I allow her to believe she did nothing wrong, her carelessness may be repeated.

3. I'm also feeling a bit of guilt/responsibility for not double checking that she had cleaned and fed him before we left, particularly because I know how scatter-brained and easily distracted she can be. Do I acknowledge my share of the blame with her?

She is a very kind-hearted and sensitive girl. She lobbied her father and I for over a month to be allowed to get the fish and did so primarily on the platform that she wanted to show us how responsible she could be.

Thoughts on how to handle this one?

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Firebird - posted on 01/10/2012

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I think she should absolutely take responsibility for her actions, so yes tell her your theory on why the fish died (just phrase it gently lol), and you can probably let her know that you take *some* responsibility as well, since you know she can get 'distracted'. However, make sure you keep your part in it small, she needs to fully realize that this fish was her responsibility, and you should not be expected to double check all her work just to make sure it gets done. That being said, I would clean the tank myself while she's at school since she'll probably be feeling enough guilt about her fishy's death.

Chrystal - posted on 01/10/2012

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I would remove the dead fish and clean the tank she doesn't need to see that especially if she is sensitive. I would talk with her honestly about why the fish died but if the fish meant a lot to her I don't think anything drastic needs to be done to teach her the lesson she'll just get it and if it didn't that shows you she's not ready for that responsibility again any time soon. Sorry your fish died

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Michelle - posted on 03/29/2014

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Locking this old thread, feel free to start another one.
Michelle,
WtCoM Mod.

Kim - posted on 01/10/2012

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@Lesley, I'm glad that it worked out for you and your daughter. Hopefully if she gets another one she will be well prepared to look after it after the research you guys have done. Sorry if I came across as rude about the extra food, it was just confusing to me since no one else mentioned it. I have heard that those blocks aren't always the greatest either so who knows what it was but hopefully lesson has been learned. We have a fish tank and believe me we have had our fair share of fish die for no apparant reason.

Charlie - posted on 01/10/2012

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I think you did the right thing thing.
Death is a natural and inevitable part of life often having pets and the sad passing of them can be a good way to slowly help them understand the concept and prepare them for the future when it may be someone they know or love.

Often adults can worsen a childs understanding and reaction to death by not preparing them or teaching them.

♫ Shawnn ♪♫♫ - posted on 01/10/2012

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Sounds like it went well, Lesley. I'm always afraid I'll kill the fish if i'm the pet sitter...Betas are especially picky it seems.

Lesley - posted on 01/10/2012

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UPDATE: I allowed her to find him when she came home from school. She was very sad but it was best that she was part of burying him. After we researched online why he might have died and she reached her own conclusion that it was very likely the addition of the starfish just before we left. Because it was a formerly living thing, one it was rehydrated it began to decompose contaminating the water.
Thanks to all for the feedback. FYI-when I said extra food, I meant the block that lasts 2 weeks. We've used it in the past and never had a problem.

♫ Shawnn ♪♫♫ - posted on 01/10/2012

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Ok, a quick answer:

1. NO. YOu wait until she can help.
2. You explain to her that as always, death cannot always be explained, but that since she neglected to take care of it before she left there is a chance that she may have contributed. and, yes support her and help her realize that if she has a responsibility, she needs to get organized. Even at 9, it's possible.

3. Yes, admit your part. It's always better to say "mom screwed up" and let your kids see you're human.

so, in my house the convo would be something like this:

"Honey, we need to clean out your fish bowl because he couldn't live without food, and in dirty water. I did remind you, but then I forgot to check, so I'm sorry that I didn't remember to check with you before we left. These things happen, and next time we'll both try harder"

Or something like that

Kim - posted on 01/10/2012

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@ Chrystal, Thanks, I didn't think I could be the only one that found that to be weird. I've always been told to feed a fish a tiny amount once a day. They aren't like a cat where you can just leave out extra food if you are going away. They tend to eat everything that is put in their tank so if you feed it extra it can overeat and die. I wouldn't put the blame on your daughter but if you decide to get a new one I would either research info online or go together to the pet store and ask so the mistake isn't made again.

Ashley - posted on 01/10/2012

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I wouldent blaim her it may not be her fault and just saying its a fish maybe go get a new one, over feeding the thing probably killed it and is it really worth making your daughter feel bad for something your not sure about. I dont no maybe at 9 you have to be a bit harder on them but death is part of life and fish are really easy to kill so if she is going to be hart brocken get her something that isint prone to dying like a dog or cat, good luck

Tam - posted on 01/10/2012

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Overfeeding a fish can easily kill it. As can being in a dirty tank.

As for disposal, it's easy enough to either flush the body down the toilet or bury it in the yard, if she wants to go that route. If she's going to be devastated by the loss, its likely a good idea to let her choose how the burial will go - traditional, or 'at sea'.

She needs to understand that she is responsible, therefor to blame at least in part. Perhaps if you and she are will to try again for a pet fish, have her do something to prove that she will take it more seriously. Perhaps come up with a report of something on the care and maintenance of a fish, that way everyone involved is more informed on the care. Also, next time you will be taking an extended stay away from home, make sure SHE finds a baby sitter for the animal - it's all part of pet ownership.

That's only if you wish to let her try again, though, were I in your shoes.

Chrystal - posted on 01/10/2012

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@Kim- yeah I thought it was weird too but I never had a fish so know nothing about what to do with them thought maybe they only eat every so often like a snake.

Kim - posted on 01/10/2012

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Am I the only one who thinks it is weird to put extra food in the tank and think the fish will live for 2 weeks? I feed my fish every day and there is never any extra since it just sinks to the bottom and mushes. I honestly don't think it would have mattered if your daughter forgot or not, but I would clean the tank before she is home and explain to her that the fish died and maybe next time you go away you need to find a babysitter for it. There are pellet things you can buy that slowly release the food for when you go away. I don't know if they have them for beta fish though.

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