03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Christmas Tail

Looking out the window this Saturday morning, as snowflakes whiteout the D.C. area, I am glad I have finished my Christmas shopping.

No stuck in a blizzard at the side of a road, no slip sliding away, no testing my Volvo's anti-lock brakes, just hot chocolate, fleece pants, maybe a snowman later in the afternoon. I bought my last present on Friday.

"It's his first Christmas," I told the store clerk, trailing her. "I'm look for something to put under the tree."

"What's he like?"

"Inquisitive, pretty active, likes to hide," I respond, as we turn a sharp corner.

Halfway down a well-stocked aisle, she stops and says, "How about one of these?"

"Hmm, not a bad idea," I say, carefully inspecting the item. "But I don't want him to get stuck in it. Also no toxic paint, in case he gets some in his mouth, and no rough edges to hurt himself on."

The clerk gently assures me that the aquarium decoration is perfectly safe and a great holiday gift for our family pet, a blue Betta fish, also known as a Siamese fighting fish.

My son R.J. named him Fighter, not terribly original, but very apt. Fighter has twice fought for his life, and unlike cats, I am told he only has one.

Once, I accidentally dropped him down the waste disposal unit. Thankfully, it was off. I finally fished Fighter out, who, true to his name, put up a good fight against my rescue efforts. Convinced he was at death's door, I rushed to replace him before R.J. came home from school.

But then a story came to mind. My friend had left her red Betta fish with her mother-in-law over the holidays while she traveled.

Upon her return, she took one look at the fish and said, "That's not Chili! The fins are all wrong."

"OK," the mother-in-law broke down. "He died."

Apparently, the mother-in-law had taken the dead fish to the pet shop and told the clerk she wanted one just like that.

Well, R.J. would also know the difference, so I bought Betta fish medicine and prayed an awful lot.

"Mom, what have you done to Fighter?" were the first words out of his mouth when he walked in and saw his perky, yet rather ragged-looking fish. At least, they were not, "Who're you trying to kid?"

The second time Fighter almost died was this winter. As the weather cooled, he went ashen, stopped eating and sank to the bottom of his fishbowl. Back at the pet store, I dropped a couple of hundred dollars on our $2.99 fish.

("I'm sure there's logic in that somewhere, but I just can't see it," said my husband Ron).

Fighter now has a luxury tank with bulb-heater, thermometer, live plant and gravel. He is, well, as happy as a fish, swishing in his tropical mansion, while I suck out his -- err -- refuse with a plastic tube.

Naturally, like millions of other pet owners, I have bought our spoiled pet a special Christmas present.

According to a recent story in the New York Times, a fall poll conducted by the Associated Press and (an Internet pet store and veterinary Web site) found that 52% of pet owners planned to buy holiday gifts for their pets, up from 43% last year. Apparently, in spite of the Bah Humbug economy, our beloved animals are living large and living it up.

The assortment of online pet presents is dazzling, a veritable winter wonderland. Most are for dogs and cats. Forget Christmas catnip, there are rawhide candy canes and gingerbread munchies; plush squeaky moose and elf toys; fleecy blankets and downy beds; and tinkling bell collars and seasonal costumes, including fur-trimmed Santa outfits for boy or girl pets (I am still trying to figure out which part of these outfits is politically correct?).

So, today, with the snow coming down in drifts, R.J. checks out the growing plethora of wrapped presents under our tree.

"You know, Mom," he says. "You really ought to get a Christmas gift for Fighter."

"I already did."

Our fair fan-tailed friend has his own gift wrapped in paper, tied with a bow and bearing a tag that reads: Merry Christmas, Fighter.