You know, it’s been bothering me ever since I wrote “Cat, Dog” yesterday. It was when I stated that Mikey the Beta fish wasn’t a real pet. “Fish occupy that nebulous category between a knickknack and a screen saver. They are more than a plant but less than an animal.”

When I thought about it later I thought it was a mean thing to say, the arrogance of the human showing through. After all, Mikey is being the very best Beta fish he can be. In fact, he is the epitome of Beta fishness. He swims like a champion and comes to the surface when I dip my finger in his bowl. He isn’t moody or a fussy eater and he doesn’t talk back.

Granted, I cannot hug Mikey, take him for a walk or a ride in the car. Our conversations are limited to the typical “good morning, did you have any good dreams,” gambits. But when I am feeling a little low, I can press my nose against the glass that divides our domains and he will dart over and look into my eyes. His beautiful blue fins gracefully float beneath and behind him and his little side flippers flutter as if he is waving to me – and my heart lifts.

Indeed, I remember well when his predecessor, Mikey the 1st, died. The poor thing struggled for a day and a half and every time I looked at him, I cried. After he was gone I felt his absence keenly even though I had a dog and two cats living with me at the time. There was a rent in the fabric of our universe that wasn’t quickly mended.

So it isn’t the species of the pet, or the level of consciousness, or the ability to communicate that really matters. What makes the difference isn’t in the pet, it is in us. It is the capacity to care for something other than ourselves. So, although our home now has a kitty, Mikey is still the big man on campus.