I locked eyes with the fish as I tapped flakes of food into his tank. He stared blankly at me through the glass. Not exactly my idea of a perfect pet.
I’d begged my parents for a dog or a cat. Even an iguana would have been better than a fish. But they showed up one day with a bright gold fish swimming around in a plastic bag. They beamed at me and expected me to be ecstatic. For a fish. A silly little fish.
In protest, I named him Dog.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against fish. They’re perfectly fine animals. But I wanted a pet that would do tricks and greet me when I entered a room. A pet that would show affection, like a tail wag or a meow. Instead, I got a dead-eyed fish.
Or so I thought.
“I’m never going to get a dog,” I said to my best friend, Jane, on the phone. I stared at my fish lazily munching on his flakes. Suddenly, Dog stopped eating and swam over from the other side of his tank. He looked at me, expectantly.
“What do you want?” I muttered. Dog turned and swam back to his dinner.
“It’s not fair,” I said, continuing to complain to Jane. “Everyone else has a dog.”
Once again, the fish swam over from the other side of the tank, right up to the glass next to me. I gave him a puzzled look.
Did he know his name was Dog? Was he coming to me when I called him?
No way. Fish weren’t that smart.
I waited for Dog to swim away again and begin eating. Then I said, “Dog!”
He immediately swam over. Maybe Dog wasn’t a stupid fish, after all.
After school the next day, I ran right home to see what else Dog could do. When the other kids asked where I was going, I said, “I’m going to teach Dog a new trick.” Nobody realized that Dog was actually a fish.
By the end of the week, Dog could do loop-the-loops at my command. After two weeks, he could swim figure eights. After one month of practice, he could retrieve a little plastic ball by swimming under it and pushing it up to the top of the tank, so I could drop it back into the water. He was playing fetch!
Dog was a good listener, too. As we practiced his tricks, I’d tell him all about school, and friends, and my baseball games. I’m convinced that he would pout his fishy lips when I had a bad day and swish his tail happily when I told him good news. And whenever I walked into the room, Dog would always swim up to me and give me a happy glub-glub.
I was rethinking all my ideas about fish. But there was still one thing left to do. I dug my old red wagon out of the garage, transferred Dog to a small round bowl, and nestled him inside the wagon. He peered up at me excitedly. For the first time since he’d been my pet, I took Dog outside. I wheeled him around the block and all the way to the park.
“What on earth is that?” asked a kid from school, who was out walking his schnauzer.
“That’s Dog,” I said.
A boy with a beagle chuckled. “When you said you were training your dog, you meant a fish?”
I nodded proudly.
“Well… ” said a girl with a basset hound, “what can he do?”
I knelt down beside the fish bowl and shouted commands. Dog did each one as we’d practiced: loop-the-loop, figure eight, fetch. The kids were impressed. Some of them went home that very day and asked their parents for fish.
I smiled down at Dog as we headed home. He gurgled and flapped his fins. And I’m pretty sure he smiled right back.