NEW YORK — It sounds awfully fishy, but a New York City pet shop owner swears it's the truth. Buttkiss, the black pacu he owns, is 43 years old and weighs 20 pounds.
A pacu is a breed that's related to the piranha — and this pacu has lived twice as long as the average member of his species. Steve Gruebel, owner of the Cameo Pet Shop in Queens, N.Y., said he got Buttkiss in 1967 when the fish was just a wee little thing, and he sold him a year later when Buttkiss was 2 inches long. Buttkiss was returned to the pet shop in 1970 when he outgrew the buyer's tank.
Now 23 inches long, Buttkiss eats a steady diet of 25 goldfish every other day and lives in a 75-gallon tank that isn't much longer than he is: just 4 feet. Gruebel said he's afraid to transfer him to a bigger tank because he may not survive the changing environment.
Buttkiss has been a local celebrity for years, but he’s now enjoying a measure of fame across the country since National Public Radio broadcast a feature story about him.
"He brings a lot of people into the shop,” Gruebel, 60, told the New York Daily News. "But I wish they would buy something too."
Gruebel said he named the fish after Hall of Fame football player Dick Butkus. He also noted that Buttkiss is beginning to show his age. He has arthritic gills and glaucoma in his right eye.
"He's not for sale," Gruebel explained. "He is mine."
Some aquarium owners — particularly those in families with toddlers and young children — say pacus can be dangerous pets because of their powerful teeth and jaws. But many, like Gruebel, have found pacus to be enduring, friendly pets.
One pacu — a fish named Swish — lived happily for nearly 20 years in a restaurant aquarium in Seattle's International District until the tragic night in 2006 when his tank sprung a leak. Swish was 32 pounds and at least 31 years old at the time of his death.
Peter Korch worked for the aquarium company that regularly maintained Swish's tank.
"He was like a pet everywhere he went," Korch told The Seattle Times. "People would walk up to the aquarium and look in and he'd swim up and look back. ... He'd rub his body on your arms, kind of like a dog."
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