Flint, MI– On Flint’s first real snowy day of the season, Charlie was moved from his home inside of the Dort Mall to the back of a black Grand Caravan headed for Ohio.
The Giant Pacu (think big fish with teeth) swam around in a 500-gallon tank overlooking the Star Brothers Coney Island from inside the strip mall for almost 20 years.
But on this chilly Sunday, he was in a plastic tub en route to a 3,000-gallon tank three hours away in Strongsville.
Charlie would be the newest member of a big fish family at the Ohio Fish Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to housing unwanted fish and other aquatic creatures.
But it’s not that Charlie was unwanted. It was quite the opposite– he was beloved. So much so, that several residents paid visits to him to say their goodbyes over the last week since it was announced he would be leaving Flint.
On his last day, two of the men who worked in the mall and were responsible for feeding Charlie and cleaning his tank stood by and watched their fishy friend embark on his journey.
August Petrifi, 62, who has lived in Flint his whole life, and worked security at the mall for 17 years, said he was sad to see him go.
He used to chat with Charlie while he was working, and tell funny stories about his origins to the mall-goers who stopped to stare at the large mysterious creature.
Sometimes they’d ask Petrifi if the fish was real, or mechanical.
“Ain’t this the biggest bluegill you’ve ever seen?,” Petrifi would reply. “Yeah, we got ‘em from Mott Lake!”
Incredulous, they’d say they need to go down to Mott Lake, and see if they can catch a fish like that for themselves.
“If you’re gonna give ‘em a fish story, you might as well give ‘em a good one,” Petrifi said.
He came by before Charlie was set to leave to take some last few pictures of him. He swears the fish looked at him like he knew him.
Charlie gave him a similar look every time Petrifi would come around to feed him. Whenever he approached the tank with a handful of pond food, Charlie would start swimming up to the top, kicking his tail, and splashing water out of the tank.
There used to be other smaller fish in the tank with him– silver dollars, bottom feeders, and a Jack Dempsey. They mostly stayed out of Charlie’s way during feeding time.
“He’s so big, you know,” Petrifi said. “He’s like a Mack truck.”
That he is. Transporting the 34-pound fish was a three man (and one puppy) job.
One of those men was Rich Price.
Price, originally from Florida, and dressed like that’s where he was headed, came to retrieve the fish sporting an “Ohio Fish Rescue” T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. His hair comes down to his waist, but not all of it– short in the front, and long in the back, but not to be referred to as a mullet under any circumstances.
He looks like someone you can trust with your fish, and he’s got decades of experience if that’s not enough. He took an interest in fish when his uncle gave him a 10-gallon tank when he was just seven years old.
As he got older, the tanks got bigger. He started taking in people’s unwanted fishes that the zoos or aquariums wouldn’t take, and eventually decided to turn his hobby into a not-for-profit organization. Now, he houses thousands of fish in need of new homes.
Price didn’t know about Charlie’s situation until he was contacted by local Flint resident and animal lover Jody Brown.
Brown wanted to find a new home for Charlie after seeing someone’s Facebook post saying they thought he needed a bigger tank. A group was formed, and different people took on different roles in their mission for Charlie. Brown’s job was to talk to Charlie’s owner and get the transfer approved.
She said she had difficulty getting a hold of Robert Perani, the owner of the Dort mall, and ended up reaching him after commenting on one of his old family photos on Facebook. When she did talk to him, she found out he had been wanting to find the fish a new home, too.
“He was on board and now he gets to go to a bigger home and with others of his own species, and you know, maybe even find a girlfriend,” Price said.
Price already has one eligible bachelorette in mind: Miss Betty. She’s a 36-inch, 50 pound Pacu and was rescued almost a year ago.
“Everyone’s thinking, you know, they hear wedding bells because Charlie’s coming to see Betty,” he said.
Time will tell.
Although the iconic fish will be sorely missed, Charlie’s friends and fans can keep up with how he’s doing at the Ohio Fish Rescue YouTube page.