Terri Thompson was absolutely desperate.
A week prior, her children’s bright blue beta fish turned belly up and bid the world adieu.
Her children love that fish. Thompson loves her children. She and her husband were not going to break their hearts. Not in the middle of this pandemic where friends and family were flung away and socially distanced. Not now.
“She is so tenderhearted that we have done funerals for earthworms,” said her husband Dr. Willy Thompson of their young daughter. “For now we will do what we have to, to make sure we do not have to see sadness in those little eyes and hearts.”
The tiny fish, dubbed Taco, was spirited away the morning of his demise to Jubilee Pet Hospital in Daphne where Willy Thompson works as a veterinarian. Taco, he reported to the family, wasn’t feeling well and needed a checkup.
It bought his wife some time but a blue beta was nowhere to be found. Days were running short. And what was once an easy ride up to the I-10 shopping centers during school hours, away from prying eyes, was now impossible with all three kiddos at home.
“I felt bad asking my friends with small kids to run up there and into a store. I just thought maybe I could pay someone,” Thompson said. She posted the request on Facebook and worried there wouldn’t be a single bite on her line.
Within 10 minutes there were 17 private messages from strangers offering to save Taco.
“I had no clue it would blow up like it did,” she said. “By 10 o’clock we knew this was going to be an issue. We were amazed by how many people offered to help.”
The Facebook post yielded more than just offers to save the day. Many posted messages of solidarity and apologies that they couldn’t make the trip. One poster dubbed the event “Operation Taco Drop.” Others virtually shouted from the rooftops, “Long Live Taco!”
Still others shared similar stories of reanimating deceased pets to save a child’s tears.
The first to offer ichthyological taxi service soon delivered the newly minted Taco safe and sound to the vet clinic. The woman understood the family’s dilemma. She told Thompson that her own cat had recently run away and she had to tell her children the heartbreaking news.
“She really felt empathy for us,” Thompson said.
Dr. Thompson, said when elderly animals are brought to his clinic, and inevitably face life’s end, he is often asked how to deliver that news to children.
“There’s not one good, right way,” he said. “Every kid is a little different. And it really depends on the ages. What you tell a 10-year-old is different than what you might tell a five-year-old.”
Dr. Thompson said he sometimes suggests the concept of the rainbow bridge that pets pass over when they leave or that families lean on their own religious beliefs to help ease the transition.
“The biggest thing for them to know, more or less, is that their pet is in a better place,” Dr. Thompson said.
The Thompson children are 8, 3 and 6 and a half. The half, it was noted, is of the utmost importance. And this is Taco number seven.
So far they are unaware of the graveside switcheroo, though, there have been questions.
“My eight-year-old did ask me how long he’ll live. The average lifespan of a beta is 3 – 5 years. I told her she is very lucky her daddy is a veterinarian,” he said. “Eventually I’m sure she’ll catch on.”
For now, Taco is safe at home. He was resting comfortably at the clinic with an IV in his bowl when the kids came to fetch him. Mom and dad, by the way, are becoming stage prop experts with each Taco passing.
When will the Thompsons finally be willing to end the legend of Taco, the world’s most resilient pet beta fish?
“Maybe when they graduate from college,” Dr. Thompson said. “Taco will live on forever.”