Fish giveaway upsetting to student

Dining Services’ special dinners are usually greeted with enthusiasm by the student body, and rightfully so. Dining Services employees go to great lengths to make the food appealing and to create unique atmospheres in the dining halls. Last week’s special dinner was no exception. The decorative live goldfish on the tables seemed like a creative and positive idea at Mission Dining Hall’s Carribean-theme dinner – that is, until I noticed the plastic bags. Near the punch bowl holding the fish at the card-swipe counter, students were excitedly collecting their new pets and leaving the dining hall.

As I continued to eat there, the idea became more unsettling. I approached Mission Hall Unit Manager Mike Cutler when I finished dinner. He told me that Dodd had given out goldfish at a special dinner before and that they had been popular there. I asked him if he expected dining hall employees to have heard about the fish once they left the dining hall and he told me that, being a “trusting person,” he assumed that students had found some way to take care of the goldfish.

During our conversation, he also told me that most of the students taking the fish out of the dining hall were female, and so he expected the problem to be minimal. In addition, he explained that the goldfish were a “novelty” and were relatively inexpensive.

Apparently, my position, as I explained it to him, was misunderstood. I was not claiming that too much money had been spent on the purchase of goldfish. I was not claiming that males were planning to kill the fish. I was not claiming that anyone had the malicious intention of killing goldfish. I had sought Mr. Cutler to ask him why Dining Services, and he as the unit manager, had chosen to give the fish away to students who may not have been prepared for a pet.

Dining Services, in my opinion, gave out the goldfish with the best intentions, but it did not seem to have been thought through very well. Did Dining Services expect that students had fish bowls and fish food somewhere in their rooms? The idea seems ludicrous. I do not think many students would acquire all the materials for a pet and then fail to buy the actual pet. And if they acquired the pet before the equipment necessary to take care of it was purchased, is it safe to assume that the materials would be bought before the fish died? Perhaps not.

Through my experiences during the past two summers as a marine science instructor, I know that fish can die simply from stressful situations, such as being handled too roughly or too often. Goldfish are certainly one of the hardier types of fish, but their situation in the dining hall was unhealthy – especially the way they were handled when being put into the plastic bags. Fish possess an extremely sensitive nervous system and respond strongly to touch, making a stressful situation for them even easier to accomplish.

Once the fish were taken out of the dining hall, even greater practical problems would present themselves to the owner, whether or not they were knowledgeable about fish care. The obvious issue of food would soon become a problem. Mr. Cutler told me that he assumed that students would “feed them bread” in the period before they bought proper fish food. Considering that the nearest fish store is in Bennington, VT, it might be a few days before a student could get there. It is unfortunate that Mr. Cutler did not know that feeding a fish bread for more than a couple of days can lead to digestive tract problems, which usually render a fish unable to handle normal fish food, and often leads to death. But a greater, more pressing problem than a food source is the quality of the water in the fish bowl. Goldfish, like many fish, can tolerate tap water for a few days, but a chemical dechlorinator is an important addition to any aquarium or fish bowl. A goldfish could probably last a week in tap water, until the owner was able to get to the pet store, but whether an owner would know about the dechlorinator is questionable.

Mr. Cutler’s remarks were upsetting, because he seemed to miss my argument entirely. Fish, to me, and I hope to other students, are not merely “novelties” like ice cream, but living creatures that can feel pain. They are not toys and they should not be regarded as such. Like any other pet, caring for fish takes a certain level of understanding and interest. I know that some people are serious about caring for their fish, and I am not trying to minimize their efforts. I just hope that in the future, if fish are used again during special dinners, they will be used only to create the atmosphere and not as free gifts for students.

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