Whitesburg KY
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Here’s a real fish tale

Points East


A couple of Sundays ago Loretta and I stopped at a nearby discount store to pick up a sack of dog food.

We’d actually been all over three counties trying to find bulk cabbage plants – the deal where you get something like 50 plants with a rubberband wrapped around them for a dollar. This is a kraut year for us but it’s about as cheap to buy cabbage already grown as it is to purchase plants in those little six- or nine-pack trays. But that’s another story, or at least something I can deal with after the pet department tale.

So, anyway, while I was trying to determine the best deal on something my dogs will actually eat, Loretta was hanging around the aquariums admiring the pet fish. We have a huge old Oscar named Phred who is over 12 years old and blind as a bat. He feeds by sound. I stick my finger in the water and swirl it around to get his attention then drop floating pellets in one at a time. Phred noses around on the surface until he finds the pellet and usually get it in his mouth on the third or fourth try and then I drop in anther pellet and this goes on until I figure he’s had enough.

But the fact of the matter is that Phred is already much older than Oscars are supposed to live and Loretta is already shopping for a fish that will grow up to a foot long to replace him. We’d have put Phred down already, which would be the humane thing to do, but it seems sort of stupid to take him to the vet in a five-gallon bucket and have him put to sleep. We’re just going to let him die of old age. In the meantime, he’s reached the feeble point that he’d be harmless to a smaller fish while too big for a younger tank mate to pick a fight with.

So, while I pondered over dog food, Lo found something finny with a scientific name that I don’t remember. It was supposed to grow up to 10 inches long and be compatible with cichlids and Oscars. I thought it looked vaguely familiar – black with a bright red belly – and it was only 7 bucks or so. While she corralled someone to catch it for her, I loaded up 50 pounds of kibbles and bits, 30 pounds of cat litter, 10 pounds of cat food, a jar of cat treats, some flea and tick medicine, and numerous other items unrelated to pet care.

So we get home and Lo pulls out her fish books and within minutes determines that she has purchased a piranha. She calls the store and they tell her it can’t be so because they don’t sell piranhas.

In the meantime the little fish gets put in a cell of sorts – a onecubic foot box that will submerge in the aquarium to allow fish to get acclimated before they are released. And that where it stayed for a week while she tried to determine what it was, if not a piranha.

Turns out that, after an intensive internet search, the juvenile fish is a pacu which is a piranha cousin, also with a mouthful of sharp teeth, and is supposed to grow up to 24 inches long. The minimum aquarium size for pacus is 250 gallons. Ours hold 55. And besides that, what do you feed such a critter?

The website said they were fond of Brazil nuts and small mammals. What, I’m wondering, would happen if our cat fell into the fish tank? I shudder at the very thought.

So Loretta calls the store back and they tell her they’ll refund her money. Back in the pet store, while the cash is changing hands, one clerk tells another to take the baby pacu and flush it.

Loretta yelled, in great alarm, “Flush it!?!? Surely you don’t mean you’re going to flush that poor little fish down the toilet?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s generally where we flush things and it’s what we have to do with any fish returned if it’s been in another tank. Disease and all that sort of thing. But if you want to take it and turn it loose in a farm pond that would be okay with us,” the clerks suggest.

“Farm pond!? Farm pond!! Do you think I’d actually turn a killer fish loose in a farm pond where cows wade in to drink?” My wife is imagining a fish four times larger than a piranha lurking around the banks waiting to chew the legs off the first unsuspecting, thirsty calf that happens to wade in.

On the other hand, killer or not, she has become emotionally attached to the fish. I am still amazed that she had not named it even though she’d decided from day one that it had to be returned from whence it came but not until she’d decided what it actually was.

Loretta finally succeeded in convincing the sales clerks that her fish tanks were most likely far more disease-free than theirs and they finally turned it loose back in the tank with its buddies. She didn’t leave the store until she was dead certain that she couldn’t tell it from all the others which meant that the clerks couldn’t either, especially since they hadn’t had a chance to bond with it.

In the meantime, I’ve paid 6 bucks for 22 cabbage plants which have taken hold in my garden. I’m sure the kraut will taste good but it’s going to be pricier than I’d allowed.


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