The forlorn male fish sat lonely at the back of a supermarket shelf in early 2018. Squeezed into a tiny pot, the aquatic creature native to South East Asia certainly presented a sorry sight in that chainstore in the south-eastern state of North Carolina. He was just floating there listlessly – literally falling apart – neglected by the store staff and close to death. But luckily for the male fish, someone did notice him, and decided they couldn’t just leave him to his awful fate.
But there was no way Charlotte, NC, woman Victoria Schild could have realized that her trip to a local Walmart would end up with her saving a life in mid-February 2018. Then again, she could hardly have been expected to encounter a dying creature within the store.
While Schild looked around the supermarket, she passed through the pet department. But it wasn’t a fluffy dog or a pretty kitty that caught her eye that day. Instead, her attention was drawn to the fish tanks and their colorful inhabitants. But when she wandered over for a closer look, what she saw horrified her.
At the back of one of the shelves where the aquariums sat, Schild saw a little betta fish floating listlessly inside a small pot. His fins, which should have been flowing and beautifully colored, seemed limp and lifeless to Schild. Furthermore, the fish was in such a perilous state of health that he appeared to be rotting away before the customer’s unbelieving eyes.
In fact, when Schild picked up the fish’s cramped container, she saw his tail breaking apart in the water. And with it, a little bit of her heart broke too. Consequently, Schild knew there was no way she could simply ignore the betta’s pitiful plight and simply walk back the way she had come.
Schild spoke to animal interest website The Dodo in March 2018 about her fateful Walmart visit. “I felt incredibly sad for the little guy and decided that I didn’t want him to die in there, just rotting away,” she recalled. “I was 95 percent sure he was going to die that night.” Schild did the only thing she felt she could in the circumstances.
Having bought the betta and saved him from a lonely death, Schild was determined to make a difference to the end of his life. She felt that the fish didn’t have much time left, but she could at least make his final few hours more comfortable. The animal lover took her purchase home and decanted the betta into clean water in a big tank she had. However, much to her amazement, Schild’s “little guy” seemed to respond positively to his fresh surroundings.
Indeed, after an initially dubious start, the fish perked up. So much so, that Schild began to think there might be hope yet for the beleaguered betta. She saw the improvement as a chance to save the fish’s life. As Schild recalled to The Dodo, “When I got home, I started researching everything that I possibly could to help him recover.”
And, armed with this new knowledge, she set to work. Thanks to her efforts, it was not long before she saw the fruits of her labors. “Probably within a week of clean warm water, medicine and basic care he started getting better,” Schild told The Dodo. Indeed, the little fish went from strength to strength. Moreover, he seemed to love his new tank and explored it as he gradually recovered.
Schild’s fish was not the only one of his kind to ever be found suffering in captivity, but most of the species’ neglect stems from misinformation. Bettas are also known as Siamese fighting fish and they are tough little guys. However, because they are more resilient than many aquarium fish, they are victims of hearsay. For example, bettas are widely believed to prefer smaller containers, such as the pot Schild found her pet dying in.
In truth, bettas can survive in smaller habitats better than some fish breeds, but it should be treated as a temporary solution at best. Rumors of betta fish dying in large tanks are actually explained by inadequate tank conditions. Which also links to another myth perpetuated about the species.
Some believe bettas are acclimatized to muddy water and prefer dirty environments. People think this because the fish can be found stranded in shallow, dirty water during their mating season. But that is because that time coincides with the dry season in their native South East Asia. Poor quality water just happens to be a major cause of many wild betta deaths and so this myth should be ignored.
Betta fish are apparently well on their way to becoming the most popular tank fish in the U.S. However, this popularity among the country’s pet owners is not always reflected in the nation’s pet stores. Indeed, it would seem that the Walmart where Schild saved her betta was not the only one of its stores to come under fire for neglect. In April 2014 a woman allegedly discovered tanks of the dead fish in a Walmart outlet in Olathe, near Kansas. Further concerns were flagged up the following year after a similar betta incident was reported in Gainesville, Florida.
In fact, the shopping chain’s fishy problem reached such a level that it began receiving attention on social media. In 2016 Sharanya Prasad, a user of the activist network Care2, created an online petition calling for Walmart to take better care of its fish stock. Unfortunately, Prasad was to be pretty let down by the response…
Indeed, the disappointed petitioner spoke to the Huffington Post about the issue in June, 2016. “A lot of people don’t think the same way about fish as they do about puppies and kittens,” Prasad explained. “But they are sentient animals that feel pain.” Of course, Walmart disputes claims of neglect and cruelty, and issued its own statement to the Huffington Post.
A representative for the largest grocery retailer in the U.S. said, “We recognize and appreciate our obligation in the care and feeding of our live fish. We have processes in our stores that allow for the proper care of all betta fish by our associates. Like anything else in our store, if something doesn’t meet our customers’ expectations, we hope they’ll bring it to the attention of store management.”
The statement concluded, “When we are made aware of such an issue, we take immediate action.” Whatever the facts of the matter, Schild managed to save one of the betta fish that had slipped through Walmart’s safety net. And her research really seems to have paid off. In fact, he no longer looks like the same pathetic creature she rescued from the verge of death.
A month after her act of mercy, Schild gave an update to The Dodo, “Now he’s an amazing little fish. I love watching him swim around, leap for food, follow my shadow, and just be a cool little guy.” She also gave him a name – Argo. He’s named after Jason’s ship from Greek mythology in reference to the revitalized fish’s billowing fins which remind his owner of sails.
Schild gave Argo another chance at life, and seeing his transformation is truly heart-warming. But not every betta is as lucky as him – there are shoals out there on shop shelves, suffering in silence. And no-one is more aware of that fact than Schild.
Indeed, she remarked on the subject to The Dodo. “With just basic care and a proper setup, they are great little pets to have,” she said. “I hope Argo’s story can bring awareness to the plight of bettas and other fish in pet stores.” Schild concluded. “We need to be their voices.”