For the Love of Animals
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When I first met Emma in Korea, she used to spend ample time studying the dirty, overstuffed fish tanks in front of restaurants. She cursed the people who’d treated seafood that way, unapologetic in her volume as to how the aquatic life was being mishandled, in her open-ended questioning of who would want to eat such diseased animals now.
One day, as we stood near a squid restaurant, a man came out for a fresh specimen, which wiggled free from his net and promptly squished on the ground not ten feet away from Emma. In this respect, it was a rough couple of years, and truthfully, the anguish my future wife felt at the side of those fish tanks, like bubbly death beds, was what first converted me to the last seven years of vegetarianism.
Since she was a child, Emma has loved in animals. At the age of eight, after watching a show about sausage production, she announced to her largely agro-family that she would no longer be eating their meat. After that, she has more or less remained on a mission to protect and nurture all animals, from the tiny fruit flies that infested our house in Guatemala City (she caught them by hand to release them outside) to the twelve-foot nurse sharks I swam with in the Busan Aquarium (she didn’t go because sharks should be in the ocean).
Our life together, without me fully realizing it, has been largely based around animals. Looking at it now, we spend a large part of our travels searching out dolphins, armadillos, raccoons, skunks, bears, and all manner of animals not native to England. In the seven years we’ve known each other, she’s probably had a dozen different favorite animals. Big or small, ugly or cute, they’ve all got a place in her heart.
There always seems to be some sort of lingering animal life around. In Istanbul, we adopted a street cat so foul that one insulting name wasn’t enough. It had to walk the earth known not only as Mank Face, but also as Aidsy, Dying Cat, and Son of Crooks (another similar cat nearby had a permanently tilted head thus was named Crooks).
Only Emma and the wierd “Witch Lady” who was squatting in the house next door—I’ll never forget her walking down our street backwards because the hill was too steep for her high heels— would touch the cat. After Witch Lady was evicted, Emma was the sole caretaker and provider. She ended up packing Mank Face to a veterinarian and getting him checked out, only to learn the cat actually had something called cat AIDS (not communicable to humans).
Though the vet said the cat would not survive, Emma paid for medicine that would help it enjoy what was left of its life. And, it did. About a couple months into recovery, Mank Face perked up and even cleaned up a little, before disappearing for a few days. I’m sorry to say it was to be the last hoorah.
When Mank Face finally did return, he was injured beyond repair, as if hit by a car, with parts broken and blood oozing from several locations. He’d managed to make it back to in front of our house but collapsed there. Emma and I found a box, and when we went to get him, the cat used all of its energy to climb in. Sadly, there would be no more recovering. The vet put him down this time.
That cat wasn’t the first and hasn’t been the last of Emma’s Noah-like capers. She’s adopted several rodents, i.e. mice and rats, who went under the various aliases of Floyd, Collin, Fridgy, and Jebbodiah. Emma, of course, would never catch or cage these creatures.
Her main task was to dissuade their expulsion from certain individuals who might find it advantageous to not have mice and rats around. Often, she hid the identities of the animals, pretended they just weren’t there, until someone else discovered their existence, at which time she would protest that “You can’t kill Floyd” or “You have to hide Fridgy. Don’t let . . . know.”
Unfortunately for Emma, most of the animals she comes across, adopts but does not own, are either half dead already or considered household pests. In other words, her track record as an animal associate reads a bit like death row minister. She has upheld the faith, but by and large, it’s been too much too late for those around her.
Mank Face passed on. Floyd and Collin each got nabbed by extermination. Fridgy, named such for being found horribly injured on top of refrigerator, didn’t make it beyond the first night. Mr. Leafy, a leaf bug, ultimately got squished by—and I stress this—accident when he refused to stay outside despite several warnings.
Others have survived, like those fruit flies (for the rest of their day of life). We used to catch cockroaches in our basement apartment in Istanbul and throw them out of the window to freedom. We’ve each been stung by scorpions in bed, both (the animals that is) of which survived the ordeal. And on it goes.
All of this is to say that we’ve now got goldfish living atop our headboard. It doesn’t belong to us, which has prohibited us giving it an official name, but we’ve come to refer to it as Bobby Fischer, Mr. Fisherson, and various other fish-based titles.
Bobby Fischer (my way of getting his attention) came to us by way of Valentine’s Day. One of the mom’s at Emma’s school bought all of the children goldfish as a gift, a few of which were left in bags on the kitchen counter because some students were absent that day. After Fisherson waited for nearly a week (still in the bag), Emma could no longer take it.
She set into motion a rescue mission, first liberating Little Fish (Native American name) from the confines of the kitchen. On the way home, she bought a bowl about the size of a volleyball (“Not as big as the ocean,” she protests), enough food to feed it for a decade, and a little sunken scenery to make the place feel more homey.
Currently, Mr. Fish is in life limbo above my head every night. If the little girl wants him, Emma has said she will return it. She’s also given serious consideration to finding a pond to release Fishy into, but as of yet, we’ve not located one, let alone one suitable.
She spends a lot of time looking at the bowl, worrying over Bobby Fischer, wondering if it’s happy or floating slightly askew, if it has eaten any food or is getting repetitive disorder from swimming in circles. Last night, I had to have a fifteen-minute conversation about the well-being of a rescued goldfish we never wanted because animals can’t be owned and fish aren’t supposed to live in bowls anyway.
So, good people of Antigua, if any of you folks with the fancy houses have fishy fountains or friendly ponds and wouldn’t mind an aquatic chess champion seeking some refuge, now might be the time to say—free delivery with a complimentary, slightly used popcorn container.
*Emma reserves the right to judge the appropriateness of any habitat put forth. The judgment will not be of the concerned animal-anthropist but rather on their interpretation of suitable goldfish housing.