The betta fish, Bruce, has been a resident of Queens since the beginning of the school year, working there to help alleviate stress for visitors and make them feel welcome at the Health and Wellness Center.
“This may be [a student’s] first time coming to see the doctor, nurse or counselor, but on their own and they’ve had to muster a little bit of courage to come in and [Bruce] is just a good distraction, and it takes away the formality,” Office Manager of the Health and Wellness Center Nancy Lastreto said. “It personalizes the visit, it gives us something to talk about rather than just filling out forms.”
A friend of Lastreto gave Bruce to her back in June. Since the school year started in August, Bruce has spent most of his weeks swimming prominently at Lastreto’s desk in the Health and Wellness House. On the weekends, Lastreto takes him home using a container that fits her car’s cup holder. “He used to sit on the passenger side, but one day I slammed on my breaks and he went flying,” said Lastreto.
Bruce isn’t the only one who lives with Lastreto, she also own two cats. Surprisingly, Bruce gets along with both of them very easily. “My two cats don’t mess with him at all, they drink out of his water and he goes up and meets them. They’re not afraid of him and he’s not afraid of them,” Lastreto said. Her cats are not the only ones who have warmed up to Bruce. “I have fallen in love so much with this fish,” she said.
Lastreto, already involved in the health of students, has now taken on the additional task of caring for the health of her fish. Betta fish usually live three to five years, but can live longer with enough exposure to movement and light. According to Lastreto, this is a form of stimulation and exercise for Bruce. His nine to five work shifts have been good for him, Lastreto has noticed Bruce is much more active at work than at home.
Bruce is liked and attracted by many students. Many feed him while visiting Health and Wellness, and Bruce likes students, according to Lastreto. “I don’t know if it’s because he likes the color of their clothing or its movement,” she said.
Occasionally, Bruce scares his fans when he decides to take a nap during his busy day at work. Lastreto said, “Sometimes he sleeps on the bottom, and people will come in and say ‘your fish is dead you know.'” Lastreto normally responds, “My fish is not dead. He is sleeping.”
Even if students do not have an appointment with the Health and Wellness Center, they still stop to see Bruce and ask for him when he is gone. While he may not be as fluffy and social as the other regulars at Health and Wellness, he is certainly just as appreciated.