Moving is the most given reason for dogs to be surrendered to animal shelters. Moving is the third most common reason for cats to be abandoned, according to the National Council on Pet Population & Study. But unfortunately, the study did not go further than dogs and cats.
If did, for example, look at the needs of homeless plecostomus catfish or “plecos” abandoned by owners through one reason or another. Unfortunately, most unwanted pet fish either get flushed down a toilet or released into wild streams, ponds, lakes or rivers. Abandoned plecostomus rough it in warm area like Florida and the Phillipines. These released pet fish usually die a quick death in the polluted water or get eaten by predators, but some released species like the Asian jumping carp and the snakeheads have become real terrors, displacing native species.
Say Hello to the Plecostomus
The common plecostumus is also called the suckermouth catfish or Hypostomus plecostomus. It is, to put it politely, a rather funny-looking fish. It eats decaying organic matter like food the other fish have missed and also eats algae. It does not eat fish poop, despite common misconceptions. It originated in South America. They can grow to be two feet long.
I first saw my plecostumus when he was only about an inch or so long. He’d just been purchased from some unknown pet store and placed in my Aunt Barbara’s feeder goldfish tank. She fed goldfish to her main pet fish, her Red Oscars. I didn’t take much note.
The next time I saw my plecostomus was over five years later in 2005 when I was visiting my Dad and my stepmother in their condominium. They had a hexagon-shaped 20 gallon tropical fish tank. I asked Dad about the fish. He pointed to the now three or four inch large pleco and said, “That was your Aunt Barbara’s. I took him when she died.”
“Aunt Barbara’s DEAD?” I had spent the last five years homeless in England and the reverse culture shock was incredible. I felt bad for the poor little pleco who lost a home because his mistress died.
Mr. Big Fish Comes Home
Flash forward to 2009. My Dad suddenly takes me to our favorite Chinese buffet. He looks more nervous and harassed than usual. He finally breaks the news to me. “I’m moving to the Poconos.” He then confirmed he was also taking my stepmother and their cat.
Then there was a pause,
“What about the fish?” There were only two left in the tank, including Aunt Barbara’s plecostomus, which had grown another three or four inches long and a painted glassfish.
“Well, uh, I was gonna take them to a pet store. I think the guy there can sell ’em.”
“Oh, NO! They’ll never survive the shock! And who’s going to buy an eight inch long catfish?”
“Someone with a really big tank, I guess.”
So I wound up agreeing to take not only the fish, but the tank, the decorations and all of the equipment. I couldn’t let the fish die, could I? Dad was relaxed and smiling. Later on, I realized I was set up. But I think I got the better end of the bargain.
I live with my Mom and since it is technically her house I told her about the plight of Aunt Barbara’s plecostomus and the pathetic little painted glassfish that stayed hidden most of the time. Mom agreed to the newcomers. The tank would be placed in the living room so she could see both the TV and the aquarium simultaneously. I wasn’t fond of that position as TV noise can alarm fish, but Mom wasn’t budging on this issue.
No wonder my parents divorced.
So, tank and all came over on one rainless June day. I asked Dad how old my new plecostomus was and be shrugged. “Ten, twelve, I dunno.” I asked what the fish’s name was and Dad seemed shocked that the fish would have names. “Uh, Big Moe or Big Dummy, I guess. It depends,” was his entire answer. He also seemed in a big rush to set the tank up, pour the fish in there and then high-tail it to his new home.
Mom was not pleased with the names and so she christened the pleco Mr. Big Fish and the smaller fish Miss Little Fish. Little Fish only lasted a few months more, but she was over three years old when she died, which is a long time for a painted glassfish.
Mr. Big Fish Today
I love Mr. Big Fish. I think he’s beautiful. He’s graceful and full of character. He’s now almost nine inches long but has barely grown since we adopted him. He hides in the day and is very active at night. He likes to rip the fake aquarium plants out of the gravel at least one night a week. His incredibly long trails of poop make for not only interesting aquarium ornaments but as a constant source of amusement for my Mom. Of course, she’s not the one in the household that cleans the tank.
Sometimes on nights I can’t sleep and Mom is snoring away upstairs, I turn off all of the lights and turn on the TV. I turn it to a documentary on the oceans or ponds or rivers. Mr. Big Fish lifts gracefully, a sleek sail-topped silhouette against the colors of the water shown on the television screen. Somehow, he was able to adjust to his new homes. I wish I could be so evolved.
“Freshwater Aquariums for Dummies, Second Edition.” Maddy Hargrove and Mic Hargrove. Wiley Publishing; 2006.
National Council on Pet Population & Study. “Top Ten Reasons for Pet Relinquishments in the United States.” http://www.petpopulation.org/topten.html
Wikipedia. “Hypostomus plecostomus.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypostomus_plecostomus