Petco Won’t Sell Child Any Goldfish Because They Grow

Pictured: an even less appropriate habitat. (Karen Chappell)

Pictured: not an appropriate habitat either. (Karen Chappell)

Pets aren’t toys. Tracey understands that, and she wanted to teach her son how to care for a small pet. They bought a tank and all of the extras, let it sit for five days, then returned to the store to get the actual fish. That’s when a helpful employee told them that she wouldn’t sell them goldfish for a small aquarium, because the fish would eventually grow too large.

What’s interesting is that their tank setup was the very same one that another employee had helped them put together for the fish that her son wanted. This employee either misunderstood or was incorrect when he directed their purchases. Did this employee steer them toward some hardy species of tropical fish, which stay the same size? No. The Goldfish Police wouldn’t sell them a fish.

Last week, as a long-anticipated reward, my nine-year old son and I visited your store in [city]. My son has Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, and is fascinated with fish. To reward his hard work in 3rd grade, we purchased an aquarium kit from the store. A helpful employee advised us as to set-up and the necessary time for the tank to be hospitable for fish. My son began the five-day count-down, eagerly awaiting when we could return and purchase two small goldfish.

On Thursday afternoon, with an excited child, I returned to PETCO and requested help from an employee at the front desk. My son ran ahead to try and find the two fish he wanted. [Redacted], who identified herself as an Aquatic Specialist, joined me on the way to the fish department. I told her we wanted two small goldfish ($2.99 each), at which point she asked the aquarium size. When I informed her it was five gallons, she stopped and informed me she could not sell me goldfish. Stunned, I asked why. She told me that since goldfish grow to ten inches, I would have to have a tank that could accommodate such a fish.

Incredulous, I explained to her that I had purchased the entire tank system only last week, and I had been clear with the previous employee that we intended to buy two small goldfish. She informed me, in her opinion it was unethical to put two goldfish in a five gallon tank, because they would grow larger. I stood agog in the fish department, while my son continued to press his face to the blue tanks in anticipation of his new fish.

My son was still blissfully ignorant of the conflict— children with autism often struggle with change, and this was an event he had been anticipating with great joy. Through rising tension, I told her I would simply purchase a larger tank if the fish grew too big, but for right now, two 2″ fish in five gallons of water was reasonable. She self-righteously stated that was not acceptable, and refused.

I have ever been so angry in a store.

There are two issues here: the incredible lack of anything resembling customer service, and the reality of a child on the autism spectrum now having to process and adjust in a store where he is refused the very goal that same store (and his mother) promised a few days earlier, following very specific directions.

I spent a fair amount of money on the tank set-up and supplies, and I returned to PETCO out of loyalty to buy our fish. Instead of a friendly experience, we were shamed and more care was shown for the well-being of a two-inch fish than was shown for my child, and for me as a customer.

It’s unclear if this is a company policy or the actions of a misguided activist employee, but the damage done to my goodwill is substantial, and PETCO today lost our business.

A clarification as to PETCO’s policy would be appreciated. Do customers need to bring in photos of their aquarium and be vetted? Is there an application for purchasing a fish? Does one have to sign an affidavit promising to upgrade aquarium size? Based on this employee’s assessment of my son and I, we were discriminated against by PETCO.

Training for employees in customer service, particularly [redacted], is not only prudent, but clearly necessary, unless you wish you lose more customers.


It’s admirable that a pet store employee is looking out for the good of the animals they sell, even the cheap and aquatic ones. It’s better to send a customer away empty-handed than to send some animals to their certain doom…isn’t it? Fish don’t get a lot of respect.

Keeping goldfish in a traditional bowl isn’t an ideal habitat, but a tank that provides aeration and filtering is far from mistreatment. Update: as many angry aquarists have pointed out to us, the 5-gallon aquarium would work for maybe a few weeks: what this family needed was some education from the first employee they encountered five days prior, and maybe a different type of fish.

Tracy sent this letter to the CEO and marketing executives at Petco, and hasn’t heard anything back. We called Petco to ask about their fish-selling policies, and no one has responded to our query yet. We will let you know when they do. We’ve been playing phone tag with Petco, and haven’t been able to talk to their representative yet.

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