Operator Finds Homes for Flushed Goldfish, Turns Goldfish Into Education Mascot

Glubby the goldfish educates the community and inspires kids to consider wastewater careers

Operator Finds Homes for Flushed Goldfish, Turns Goldfish Into Education Mascot

Goldfish are flushed for many reasons: “Some are by kids who find them boring. Other fish feel unloved and are willing to act the part, going belly up for a chance at bluer waters at the other end of the pipe,” says Ron Finnegan, operator at the Bayou Wastewater Treatment Plant in Georgia.

Regardless of the reason, Finnegan is coming to their rescue. Partnering with Hopeful Hands Animal Rescue Center, Finnegan has found homes for more than 200 flushed goldfish in the last five years and has raised awareness of wastewater treatment and careers in the process.

“We’ve had a steady stream of goldfish since this facility first opened in 2013,” he says. “We see a spike in the number of goldfish every summer around the fair and carnival season. So far, we have an overall 47 percent flushed goldfish survival rate.”

Rescue fish eligible for adoption are located in the facility gift shop and play a central part in tours given regularly to community members and school groups.

Finnegan says, “We’re able to place many fish in a loving home within a few weeks of receiving medical clearance after their often-traumatic experiences down the pipe.”

Humble beginnings, national ambitions

The first goldfish to survive was Glubby. “I saw a glint of gold, and instinct took over. I couldn’t let him go,” Finnegan explains.

He initially took care of Glubby in an old milk jug in his office but soon approached an animal rescue less than a mile away as more goldfish arrived. Tight on space, Hopeful Hands Animal Rescue Center couldn’t take Glubby and friends, but it formed a close partnership with the facility to help from afar.

The rescue center provided an intensive weeklong training on how to provide for sick fish. “Food, water temperature, tank design, therapy toys — they gave recommendations for all of it,” Finnegan says. Rescue center vets also make regular medical visits.

Finnegan installed a fish finder to more quickly identify newly flushed arrivals. Once a fish is identified, Finnegan uses a net or fishing pole to catch it.

A healthy Glubby now pays it forward by helping lead all tour groups. Glubby has become the facility’s education mascot and the iconic symbol of their Flush Smart marketing campaign, which focuses on the wastewater process and flushing “noes and goes,” according to Finnegan.

“We teach tour groups about wastewater treatment. Many kids think when they flush goldfish, they go straight to a lake or ocean, not to a macerator.

“We hope to spread this program throughout the U.S. as goldfish flushing should be a national concern.”

Hands-on experience

With the youth of today, how do you catch their attention? “Shock factor seems to work well,” Finnegan says. “Seeing little Glubby or Nemo who they heartlessly flushed down the toilet swimming in the sick ward has a big impact.”

It’s been a successful initiative — and a learning experience for everyone. “The kids learn about flushing do’s and don’ts, and I’ve learned about animal rescue,” he says.

The first stop on any of the facility tours is at the gift shop’s adoption center, where each kid receives a fish that he or she will carry throughout the entire tour.

“When you hear the Smart Flush messages while holding a flushed goldfish in your hands, it makes a bigger impact,” Finnegan explains. “For example, while on tour, I always ask, ‘Who would like to go swimming here?’ And unsurprisingly, no one wants to. That’s when I remind them of the golden rule: If you don’t want to swim here, your goldfish doesn’t want to either.”

Turning “eww” to “awe”

Understandably, many kids grow attached to their fish and ask to adopt them at the end of the tour. “We love this, but we want to ensure the ‘new fish, old fish, flush fish’ cycle doesn’t happen again,” Finnegan says.

To avoid this, we don’t let kids adopt a fish immediately after the tour. The plus side? “Many of the tour kids come back with their parents the next day to adopt a fish or they become regular volunteer vets. As they get used to coming to the facility and being around wastewater, we find their initial crinkle-nose reaction to wastewater careers evolves into one of curiosity and fascination, with many applying for entry-level positions after finishing school.

“Glubby is engaging youth and succeeding where his human counterparts have struggled or failed.”

This achievement in the face of skepticism and adversity is a source of pride for Finnegan. “To all those who said it couldn’t be done, I say we need to think creatively to break down old barriers. That’s a key component to recruiting youth to this career.”

Finnegan believes this initiative could be a game-changer for the wastewater industry. “Think about it: If you can tell school tour groups that you get to go fishing at work, that might be the little extra push youth need to get hooked.”


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