Goldfish disposed of down the toilet are now taking over waterways in Australia. There are better ways to get rid of pets – wait until they die, for starters
by Simon Usborne
They had a good life, but what do you do with dear Gerry the gerbil or Robbie the rabbit when they slip away into the next hutch? How about not flushing them down the loo? Especially when they’re not even dead.
It’s a problem in Australia, where mutant goldfish are surviving sewage treatment to flourish in brackish waterways in the south-west of the country. Without natural predators, the fish have grown to dinner-plate proportions, causing algae blooms and a stirring up of sediment, not to mention eating the eggs of native species.
“That is a pretty abhorrent way of disposing with an animal,” says Gudrun Ravetz, a vet and president of the British Veterinary Association. “We’d hope that it isn’t happening in Britain.” Alas, it may be; in 2009, a goldfish was rescued from a sewage plant in South Lanarkshire, in Scotland. They called it Pooh.
Gudrun advises against using a toilet to dispose of any animal, even when dead, but also cautions against the traditional grave at the end of the garden. “Legally, people can bury animals at home, but we advise they take them to the vet first to make sure they’re not infectious,” she says.
Check first with your local authority, and steer clear of water supplies. Dig deep and include a layer of bricks or paving to reduce the risk of unplanned exhumation. “Often people come into the practice with a pet after wildlife or other pets have dug them up and the poor owner has to go through the process again,” Gudrun adds.
There is a growing list of alternatives to burial. Vets will be able to provide details of pet crematoria, where animals can be disposed of en masse or individually, when they can be returned in a casket or scatter box. The Veterinary Times reports this week that personalised pet cremations are booming as owners increasingly also attend the ceremonies. “People no longer just care about how their animals are treated in life – they are also very particular with how they are handled and respected in death, too,” Steve Mayles, vice-president of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria, told the paper.
Owners are also finding new ways for pets to live on, in spirit and in body. Cuddle Clones, an American company, will make a stuffed-toy replica of your animal.
“I had someone who had their dog ashes turned into a diamond that they wear on a ring every day,” says Marc Abraham, a veterinary surgeon based in Brighton. “I mean, why not?”