If you have pet fish, you probably will need to know how to kill a pet fish.  Taking that long car ride to the vet like you would for gallant Fido or faithful Muffy strikes as a bit out of touch with the situation, not to mention coming immediately to mind as being an absolute logistical nightmare.

As I have learned, there are many ways to kill a pet fish.  They vary in level of difficulty, depending mostly on the materials at hand and the type of fish involved (big, small, tropical, freshwater, pretty, ugly, duration and intensity of relationship, etc).

As to the right way to do this from here on in it gets tricky.  There are standards.


1) Clove Oil

I’ve discovered that it’s easy, actually, to get attached to fish, even if it’s not quite so easy to convey to many others such affection. Affection is not necessary to the act of killing your pet fish, of course, but it is a factor. It counts for something.

Along with Lou, there have been a series of fish that I have kept as pets over the past seven years or so.  All bettas, a popular species of small, flamboyantly pretty freshwater fish more popularly known as the “Siamese Fighting Fish”.  All males.  Caligula, Bruce Willis, Pip and the recently late Jethro.  All but dear Jethro died of what I’m basically calling “natural causes” (READ: I came home and found them dead or they died too quickly or suddenly for me to worry about how to carry out proper actions).

No fuss, no muss!  Life goes on!

Jethro, however.  Jethro gradually stopped eating, eventually sank to the bottom of the tank and ultimately stayed there, twitching every now and then.  It was hard to watch, even from the comfort and distance of being outside the tank and especially if you had a bit love for the fish.

After the lustre in his eyes faded away I knew, alas, that it was only a matter of time.

Farewell, sweet Prince!

A sedative at low doses, a few drops of clove oil can be used to first anesthetize your pet fish – putting it “to sleep”, as it were – and a few more drops will make sure it never wakes up again. Vodka can be added to the mixture after the initial anesthetization to ensure that the sleeping fish slips quietly and painlessly into the sweet bliss of total, unambiguous death.


2) Freezing

At a Stag ‘N Doe a few years ago, some of the prospective groom’s friends decided to use feeder fish as whimsical prizes for a game exactly no one played.  The game was a poor copy of the ping-pong-in-a-fish-bowl-win-a-fish-game sometimes seen at county fairs and your lesser amusement parks. Scenes run by carnies or occasionally, at Stag ‘N Does (“d-ohs”), by generously stupid, wondrously uninteresting 20-something-year-old brahs.

Fish Care 101 states that despite all outward appearances, fish need air to breathe.  They do not “breathe” the water but rather the air infused within it.  Ergo, fish sealed in confined spaces – such as the plastic bags placed under grimy tables at poorly-attended Stag ‘N D-ohs – can suffocate slowly, imperceptibly right under your noses and tables if air is not able to diffuse into the water.

Freezing your beloved pet fish works under the same principle but in different conditions, obviously.  Place the fish in a cup of water, place the cup in the freezer and the cold will lull the Fluffy or Goldie into slumber before shutting down all of Goldie or Fluffy’s systems entirely, forever.  There is a but, however, in that fish are cold-blooded (also per Fish Care 101), so there is doubt about whether they do in fact “fall asleep” when being frozen.

Imagine being awake the whole time.

But these dudes weren’t 101 material,[1] and it’s extremely safe to say they lacked all but the basest of imaginations.  From the outside, looking in, the fish died little by little while the brahs watched, mouths, too, agape.

I was there too, fretting over another game played by no one, feeling culpable even if still vastly superior in every other tangible way.


3) Get a Bigger Fish (‘Cause The Big Fish Eat the Little Fish!)

… in which it takes but a shuffling kind of logic to see how this one just falls apart.  Do you keep the bigger fish? Is it your new pet and/or friend?  Or have you borrowed the bigger fish from someone, with the intent to return it after the deed’s been done?  There may have to be a fee involved in exchange for services rendered.  Perhaps this is a niche market that should be explored.  I know you can rent dogs in Japan.


4) Decapitation

One summer when we were still kids, my dad took us fishing and my sisters and I caught so, so many catfish.   Medium sized, brown and beige with tapering whiskers and those big bulging, unblinking fishy eyes.

There are no mysteries of origin of the food at home; that “Chinese turkey” scene from A Christmas Story[2] remained quaint and yet unsettling until years later and after some immersion in cultural anthropology.

Turns out: people are weird with food.

Catfish are notoriously hearty, enduring fish.  They can survive without water for periods of time that are amazing.

Coupled with some form of anesthesia and a swift and steady hand accompanied by a sharp and reliable blade (a cleaver works very, very well), decapitation is another readily available method for killing, lovingly, your pet fish.  Some recommend “pithing” (physically destroying the brain with a metal rod immediately after the head is be-headed) to ensure that suffering is kept to the minimum of minimums.

On its own, a “living head” is a terrible Thing and even a split-moment after the fact can, some say, last a kind of unfathomable eternity.

And THEN did they eat cake?

Monsieur, je vous demande pardon. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès.

Did they pith Marie Antoinette?

They used to hang people in Canada.

Other ways I just couldn’t: blending,[3] boiling,[4] bashing.[5]

No matter. It’s done. Crisis over, fishy gone. Resolve in one way or another, tested.

I don’t now feel good or bad or what, but if I had to place it I’d probably say it was the kind of unexpected experience I’d rather like to do without.

In the end, the Thing I really remember was thinking about the sight of those catfish heads in the sink, blinking and gasping as much as they could before THE END.

[1] Well. Rocks for Jocks.  Maybe.

[2] “Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-cist?”  It ringers, for sure.

[3] Yes. With a blender.

[4] It’s the shock, apparently, that kills the fish and surely you too, a little.  One would hope.

[5] Using bricks, largish rocks and so on.

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