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.

August Petrifi, 62, used to work at the Dort Mall in Flint. He was responsible for feeding the large fish, Charlie. Petrifi says his final goodbyes to Charlie before he is moved to the Ohio Fish Rescue in Strongsville, Ohio. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

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. 

An Ohio Fish Rescue volunteer presses on the plastic transporting tub holding Charlie, the Dort Mall fish to secure him for travel to his new home. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“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.

Diesel was along for the ride to transport Charlie, the Dort Mall fish to the Ohio Fish Rescue. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“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.

Tony Kilbury packing away parts of the now empty fish tank at the Dort Mall. Kilbury has been working at the Dort Mall since 2003 and was responsible for taking care of Charlie the fish. He says despite the changes the mall has gone through, Charlie had a lot of friends who came by to say hello and take photos with him. “There’s gonna be a lot of people disappointed” he said, but he wishes him well at his new home at Ohio Fish Rescue. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
The Ohio FIsh Rescue Van pulling away from the Dort Mall transporting Charlie, the fish who has lived at the Dort Mall for at least 17 years, to his new hom in Strongsville, Ohio. . (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

6 replies on “Goodbye, Charlie the Dort Mall fish. Flint will miss you.”

  1. great job amy, it was wonderful meeting you and im sorry about the rodrigo comment, but it was pretty funny 🙂 Charlie is back at the rescue and doing great, we posted a part 2 video showing him in his temporary 550 gallon quarantine tank, we will do updates as he gets moved into his 3000 gallon with betty 🙂 thank you for the wonderful story, it helps let everyone know what happened to charlie 🙂

    1. Thank you!! It was great to meet you too, Rich (Rodrigo). I’m happy to hear he’s doing well, and I can’t wait to see how things go with Miss Betty.

  2. Glad he has a bigger place an a friend I saw him at Genesse Valley before he came to the Small Mall

Comments are closed.