One Christmas morning during college my boyfriend gave me a pet fish. The fish was a beautiful, black, fancy goldfish. I was confused by this “gift” and I was worried about what it meant that my boyfriend thought giving me a goldfish was a good idea. I never wanted a pet fish. I didn’t like the idea of keeping caged animals, like birds or hamsters. But I accepted responsibility for the fish’s survival and immediately began researching goldfish care.
One of the first things I learned was that goldfish bowls are unsuitable environments for goldfish. Goldfish are pretty “messy” fish who dirty their water quickly. They need some form of filtration. Moreover, goldfish can grow up to about a foot and live as long as 20-40 years! But when they’re kept in a tiny bowl, goldfish ‘only grow as big as the bowl.’ That is, they develop curvature of the spine and the goldfish die from the deformity. Think: foot binding.
So I bought a large 30 gallon tank with filtration for my little goldfish, whom I named Othello. I learned all about water chemistry and how to keep the tank safe for him. Goldfish need clean, aerated water. If the tank’s filter breaks or isn’t set up correctly, fish in the tank can literally suffocate to death. I cleaned the tank once a month with my Python fish tank cleaner and while I cleaned, Othello would swim by my hands and let me “pet” him.
Goldfish eat all kinds of things and, like pigs and dogs, often don’t know when to stop. They can gorge themselves until they’re sick. So fish-care requires small, regular feedings. Othello knew when it was dinner time because he’d come up to meet me at the surface. But when other people came up to the tank to admire his beauty, he ignored them.
I really think Othello knew me. I think he trusted me. But regardless of his mental state, he literally relied on me for his entire survival. I was his care-giver, his only care-giver. His life was in my hands.
Then my boyfriend and I broke up and I moved out. Othello was about the size of my hand by then and of course he came with me. I carefully moved him and all his tank equipment to my new apartment. But I made a mistake when I was setting it back up. I turned the filter speed down. The next morning I awoke to find Othello dead. He suffocated.
Last Thursday night someone – probably an angry former farm worker – turned off the airflow to one of Iowa’s pig barns. Because modern pig barns have similarities to fishtanks, the lack of fresh air caused nearly 4000 pigs to suffocate in the fumes from their own waste.
Farm workers know what these fumes are like. And what they can do. From the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology. 2006; 1: 10:
Swine barn workers suffer from higher incidences of impaired air flow and lung inflammation, which is attributed to high intensity and interrupted exposures to pig barn air. The air in these barns contains gases, dust, microbes and endotoxin with endotoxin being the major suspect as the cause of lung dysfunction.
From one news story about the pigs’ deaths:
“It was a pretty terrible thing to see,” Deputy Jim Landau said. “We looked in and there they were. Snout to snout.”
Another story claims: “The loss is expected to be more than $200,000″ as if the monetary value of these animals is all that matters.
Most people don’t even know these intensive pig farms exist. Most people have no idea that their pork, ham, or bacon comes from cruel factory farms. Most people have no idea of the damage that these farms do to the environment, animals, and people.
What if these farms were more like fish tanks? What if they had glass walls?
Find out more at Meat.org.