I am often asked what inspired me to become a vet? I reply that there is no single, simple answer. A common follow-up question is which animal or pet inspired me most, and my reply is simply 'fish'. Dogs and cats came on the scene later in my life. When I was young, my parents did not have the time or money for us to keep a dog or cat, so they allowed me to keep fish. I started with goldfish, then progressed to tropical fish, then marine fish. I would spend all my time in class talking fish with my friends instead of paying attention. They became an all-consuming passion that remains with me today. As a young fish keeper I tried to keep my charges alive for as long as possible. At first there was no high moral reason behind this, just a practical one. Fish cost money and I didn't want to replace any that died. It became a scientific challenge to work out the best way to keep certain fish alive and ultimately have them thrive and maybe reproduce. I have always considered reproduction as the pinnacle of fish keeping, because it shows you have produced a satisfactory natural environment. Most animals fail to breed and raise young unless they are healthy and happy, and fish are no exception. When I was older, my parents adopted our first dog and, a little later, a cat. These pets temporarily distracted me from my aquarium, but not for long. My new experience in keeping these mammalian pets taught me to appreciate life and how we as pet owners are custodians of the life, health and happiness of our animals. I began to realise my fish were no less important than my cat or dog. Who are we to judge which life form is higher and more important than another? Fish are disadvantaged from the outset compared with cats or dogs. They lack facial muscles or even eyelids and hence don't visibly show pain and anguish like our mammalian or even avian friends. But from experience I know they experience pain. They behave oddly and hide when they are sick or suffering, like other animals do. They also experience fear. When a new fish is introduced to a tank, some of the more timid fish will hide. Fish undoubtedly have small brains, but they are not much smaller than a bird's brain. We humans tend to measure the suffering of others on our yardstick and are insensitive to those who are different, which explains bigotry and cruelty. A conference of the Illinois-based American Veterinary Medical Association (Avma) was held in Seattle recently. The association is a professional organisation of veterinarians that promotes research and continuing education in our profession. Although I am not a member, I have benefited much from the work it does and training it organises. During the Seattle conference, a 'fish toss' event was held by the fishmongers of Pike Fish Market. Fish tossing is a big tourist attraction in Seattle. I assume that because the conference drew vets from around the country and the world, a demonstration of fish tossing was held for the visitors. Enter People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), an animal welfare organisation based in Virginia made famous for its high-profile protests. Peta urged the association to cancel the fish toss, saying it was 'morally no different from a dead kitten toss'. I agree wholeheartedly on this point. The association replied: 'We certainly respect and value Peta's right to express an opinion and to hold a peaceful demonstration. On the other hand, we disagree with their position. We have some very well-founded animal welfare principles that include the responsible use of animals, including fish, for food and fibre purposes.' Peta went on with a protest, with people dressed as topless mermaids and mermen lying on the ground pretending to be dead and holding signs saying 'Avma supports pain'. This leaves me with a conundrum. I agree with Peta that fish tossing is stupid and disrespectful, even if the fish are not wasted, being eaten after the event. Unlike Peta members, the vast majority of the public have no moral objection to eating fish. Jesus ate fish and fed fish to his disciples. So from the point of view of marketing animal welfare, Peta is not going to gain public support; rather it will earn a backlash for a weak and childish protest. What really goads me is the generalisation that 'Avma supports pain'. It is an unnecessarily inflammatory statement made without forethought. The veterinarians of the association obviously do not support pain. By saying that they do is a nasty tactic aimed at hurting the feelings of people. I think it is high time for Peta to begin giving people and their families the same respect it accords to the animals it fights to defend, or it is going to lose support for some of the good works it is doing in other areas of animal welfare.