I have two goldfish in a tank, which were given to us as a wedding present. One of them has developed a tumour on its eye. I have taken it to the vet and he says, to my amazement, that it could be operated on. The problem is that it will cost abou t £60.

As we are on rather a tight budget, my husband is very against the idea of spending this. He says it is only a fish, and that it will die anyway, and we should either flush it down the loo or let it die naturally. I see the logic of this, but something makes me feel I am wrong to agree and that we should pay for the operation. What shall I do?

Yours sincerely, Margaret In the scale of life, most people rate a goldfish midway between a plant and a puppy. Like Margaret's husband, they say it's "only a fish". But where animals rate in the scale of life should have no effect on how we treat anything living in our care.

Of course, this fish was a wedding present. And perhaps to Margaret it's symbolic of a marriage in which she is prepared to invest and her husband has no interest whatsover. Perhaps these feelings prompt her compassion for her fishy friend.

But more likely she feels that a goldfish is not just for a wedding day any more than a puppy is for Christmas. Once you take over responsibility for a pet, you can't enjoy it during the good times without nursing it through the bad. If Margaret and her husband hadn't wanted that responsibility they shouldn't have accepted the present.

No, a goldfish is not "only a fish". It can feel pain, and even a painless tumour would almost certainly affect its quality of life. Something should be done about it, particularly in view of the fact that, if healthy, some goldfish live for up to 25 years.

Responsibility to goldfish, by the way, includes not keeping it in a goldfish bowl - cruel because it doesn't have a good enough supply of oxygen - and giving it not only gravel and plants in its tank, but shady caves in which to hide. A fish should alsobe given a varied diet, not just flakes, and, at best, some companions, since goldfish, related to the carp, are shoal creatures.

Whatever they do, they should not flush it down the loo. If they wish to kill it, the kindest way is, according to RSPCA vet Terence Bate, to put it into a plastic bag full of water, and then into the deep freeze, making sure it's completely frozen for 24 hours. It drifts off into a hypothermic coma and then dies.

But I hope Margaret saves her fish. Goldfish don't have, as popular theory goes, a memory span of seconds. When goldfish are close, one pines if the other leaves, and can spend hours nuzzling up to its partner when it returns. Goldfish have feelings - both emotional and physical. And, OK, those feelings may be very small - so what, they are still feelings.

If Margaret really can't afford the vet's fee, she could get the operation done free at an RSPCA hospital in London or Birmingham. Otherwise, if her husband still refuses to cough up, she should sell anything that she has of her own to pay the fees.

And wonder, as she saves her cold-blooded friend, why she stays married to such a much more cold-blooded man.

THE HUMANE TOUCH Whatever you do, Margaret, please do not allow your goldfish to die naturally in this condition. It is a complete myth that fish do not feel pain, and you wouldn't allow a cancer-ridden dog or cat to suffer a protracted, agonising death.Flushing it down the toilet will present it with death by slow poisoning on top of the distress caused by the tumour. This is an even more unacceptable option.

Basically you have two humane choices. If your purse strings can match the tug of your heart strings then you'll come to regard the £60 as money well spent. But if you really don't have the funds or inclination to part with such a large sum for the sake of a cold-blooded semi-sentient ichthyal, then for goodness' sake just pick it out of the water (gently, using a net, trying to avoid direct contact with fingers as much as possible), take it outside and throw it as hard as possible on to a concrete slabor some such. This will instantly shatter the spinal column and present the animla with a painless death.

Yours sincerely, Martyn Giscombe-Smith, London THE SHORT, SHARP TREATMENT Save the goldfish further suffering by giving it a sharp tap on the head, bury it in the border, planting a rose, like the one in your wedding bouquet, on its grave. Each time the flower blooms you will be reminded of the fish, your marriage to unsentimental Midas, and the benefits of organic gardening.

Use the money saved from the unnecessary vet's bill for a wake in memory of your pet, inviting the neighbours in on condition they bring a replacement "goldie". Your remaining money may have to be spent on a larger tank, but the loss will be compensated by psychological gain. Twenty goldfish are less emotionally exhausting, per head, than one.

Yours sincerely, Betty Robinson, York THE LAISSEZ-FAIRE APPROACH The only surviving comet goldfish in my large, cold-water tank is now 12 years old. For two years, it has been growing a gruesome tumour against one eye. The fish is now about eight inches long and the tumour is now as big as the head, with the eyeball somewhere in it.

Eating, grazing and swimming have not changed in any way, except that recently the fish is making a habit of resting the lump on a stone when its body is on the gravel. It has apparently learnt to stay upright and balanced by bending its huge tail.

The fish appears to be having a reasonable life. It is learning from its misfortunes, and so are we. Such learning ability is, essentially, the point of all sentient life, because of which nothing except signs of distress would cause us to terminate thispoor fish's life, which has always had to depend on us for everything.

So Margaret should do what is needed to give her pet fish a clean and peaceful life un- til its time is up. All pets' days are numbered. One day she will have memories she can cherish.

Yours, Connie Nicolle, Hertfordshire THE VET'S ORDERS As a vet mainly involved in fish disease and their welfare, I am horrified that the poor fish might be disposed of by being flushed down the loo or subjected to a lingering, possibly painful death. IfMargaret cannot afford the necessary treatment she must ensure that this animal is destroyed in a humane and efficient manner.

Yours sincerely, Tony Wall (vet), Sutherland, Scotland Next week's dilemma Dear Virginia, We have just suffered for six weeks from what I can only describe as a house-guest from hell. My partner's younger sister came over from Australia and made my life a misery. She never cooked or took us out for a meal, never bought anything, neither food nor wine, never said thank-you, and even insisted we keep our cat out of our living area because she doesn't like them. It was just take, take, take. Worst, we never had a moment alone together.

My partner and she seem to tolerate each other - they have developed a kind of squabbling modus vivendi. After she had gone I wondered if I should have asked for some kind of contribution, or if I should have chucked her out - she could easily have afforded a hotel. When I got a letter I thought it might be an apology or thanks - but no. Just an announcement that she's coming back in the summer for medical treatment and looks forward to staying with us again. She sent "lots of love". My boyfri end shrugs and says it's only for a fortnight this time and she won't be coming back after that, but I feel eaten up with fury and resentment at the prospect. What should I have done when she visited - and what I do when and if she comes again? Have any other readers had experiences like this?

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate.Please write to me at the Features Department, the Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 071-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own, let me know.

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