I bet that every betta lover has
a story to tell on his/her pet betta, be it
interesting, sad, touching, happy, or even humourous.
It's hard not to have a unique encounter with betta
fish keeping since a lot of hobbyist started the
hobby at a very young age and have a very deep
impression on those days when they have their first
fish, or due to space constrain, only can afford to
squeeze in a jar of betta without mummy complaining
Story No.1 - The fish that threatened national
The fish that threatened national security
College student Lara Hayhurst was
not prepared to let officials treat her little pet
like Osama 'fin' Laden
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Like many college students who flew home for the
holidays, I had to endure the latest airport
safeguards in the name of homeland security. A lot
of us have stories to tell, but only mine is a fish
tale, a contemporary melodrama of the absurd to
prepare you for future travels.
My boyfriend Trey and I arrived by taxi at the US
Airways terminal of La Guardia airport. We had four
bags apiece, and one more precious piece of cargo --
MJ, my pet fish. MJ is a gorgeous fighting Betta
fish, his palate a perfect pastel rainbow. He had
become quite a solace to me in New York, a city that
can make you feel so small and alone.
I missed my cats at college, and it really helped to
have this tiny, exuberant creature to look after.
Betta fish, research has shown, are the only aquatic
animals that can recognize their owner. MJ was no
exception. I'd walk into my cold dorm room after a
long day and his body would just light up, and he
would swim excited circles around his little bowl.
Unfortunately, residence hall rules required that I
take him home with me for winter break. That was
just as well, since there would be no one there to
care for him.
At La Guardia we proceeded to security and the X-ray
inspection point run by the Transportation Security
Administration. I have learned by now that,
post-9/11, a traveler is better off safe than sorry
when proceeding through security.
I wasn't prepared, however, for the TSA to stop me
right at the entrance, proclaiming that no small
pets, including fish, were permitted through
security. I had, however, just received the blessing
of the ticket agents at US Airways and pre-assured
MJ's travels with Pittsburgh International Airport
security weeks before our travel date. I tried to
explain this to the screener who stood between me
and the gates, but she would have none of it.
I was led back to the US Airways ticket counter,
stocking-footed and alone, where the agents
reasserted that they did not see a problem for me to
have a fish on board, properly packaged in plastic
fish bag and secured with a rubber band as MJ was.
But the TSA supervisor was called over, and he
berated me profusely. He exclaimed that in no way,
under no circumstances, was a small fish allowed to
pass through security, regardless of what the ticket
Mr. Supervisor was causing a grand scene, marshaling
the full authority of the TSA to refuse me. Now, I
know my fish is a terrorist (Osama Fin Laden we used
to call him back at school), but doesn't it strike
you as funny that, with all the commotion my little
security threat was causing, by now engaging the
full attention of the TSA at LaGuardia, that someone
who posed a real threat to passenger safety might be
conveniently slipping by?
By this time, I was in tears. The supervisor
furiously told me to dispose of the fish. Dispose of
my fish?! What did he want me to do, throw him away?
He told me to go outside and give him to whomever I
came to the airport with. When I explained I was a
college student, alone in New York City (save for
boyfriend Trey), he brushed me off and said that was
not his problem.
I cried some more. With no other option that we
could see, Trey and I headed toward a rest room.
Inside the ladies' room, I looked at MJ, swimming
happily in his bag, and then the looming porcelain
toilet bowl in front of me. I broke down. I couldn't
I went back outside and told Trey I couldn't flush
MJ. It was then, in this hopeless predicament, that
Trey, ever brilliant and supportive, had an idea. He
explained his plan to me.
Trey disappeared into the men's room with the fish
and my backpack. When he got into the stall, he let
out a bit of the water in MJ's bag, and packed the
fish into my backpack, which only contained pants.
Wedged between some corduroys and khakis, we prayed
he wouldn't suffocate or get squished, not to
mention fried by the security X-rays that can be
fatal to small creatures such as fish. Every Web
site I visited, every vet that I contacted said that
air travel was no problem for Bettas, as long as I
did not, under any circumstances, allow it to go
through the X-ray machine.
In my research, I had learned that running a fish
through an X-ray would be like a human getting
radiation without wearing the protective lead cloak.
At this point, though, we had no choice. We
proceeded to a different security checkpoint, on the
other side of the terminal.
Before we went through, Trey grabbed my hand.
"Lara," he said, "you know there are only a few
"One, they will see his bag or skeleton in the X-ray
and catch us, we'll get in huge trouble for crossing
security and we'll have to flush the fish. Two, he
may die instantly in a blaze of glory from the
X-rays. Or, he'll miraculously survive and we'll
smuggle him onto the plane and pray that he survives
the exposure." I shuddered and nodded.
We took a deep breath and proceeded. We loaded our
things onto the belt before the X-ray machine and
walked through. Once past the scanner, Trey and I
grabbed our things and ran for the gates, eager to
find the first bathroom to see if MJ was intact. On
the way, we passed by the original security
checkpoint we had tried to go through.
The agents were huddled together, and recognized us.
"What did you do with the fish?" they asked, "What
did you do with the fish!?"
Sensing a chance for comeuppance, Trey put on his
"stone-cold-supportive-protector" face and said with
great dramatics, "You know what ... we flushed him.
We flushed him because you made us [pause for
effect]. You killed my girlfriend's fish. No, you
made her kill her fish ... Happy holidays."
I started sobbing again. Trey gave the TSA agents
one last cold, steely gaze.
We turned and walked away. I smelled an Oscar.
Now in the rest room, I faced impending doom once
again. I picked through my bag and found the
familiar plastic. I pulled it out, and miraculously
MJ was still alive!
Maybe it was God, maybe it was the corduroy, but
someone wanted my fish to live. I then bought a
doughnut from a coffee kiosk, placing MJ on the
bottom of the paper bag I was given, and the pastry
on top. Trey and I walked to the gate and checked
in. A few passengers had witnessed our role in the
La Guardia Christmas Security Spectacular and asked
us what happened to the fish. We stuck to our story
and told them it was gone.
The flight was full. I sat between two fat men who
seemed intrigued by the brown paper bag I gently
cradled in my lap the whole flight.
An hour and a half later, we were in Pittsburgh. We
departed the people-mover, and ran one final time to
the bathroom to see if MJ was OK, and he was.
Absolutely amazing. Two terminals, baggage claim and
a car ride later, I was at home.
As I write this I sit with a cat in my lap and my
fish, which I have aptly renamed X-ray, swimming
contentedly in his glass-beaded bowl. And even
though my actions may send Tom Ridge reeling and
upset the karma of the Department of Homeland
Security, I really don't care.
Honestly, they have bigger fish to fry.
(By:Lara Hayhurst, a graduate of
North Allegheny Senior High School, is studying
musical theater at Pace University in New York City