North Carolina

Pet fish had to eat cockroaches to survive. Now its owner is in trouble, NC cops say

An Oscar fish was abandoned by its owner, who has been charged with multiple animal abuse crimes.
An Oscar fish was abandoned by its owner, who has been charged with multiple animal abuse crimes. MIAMI HERALD

After being abandoned, a pet fish is recovering from disease and neglect at a North Carolina pet store while its owner was arrested on multiple animal abuse charges, according to law enforcement.

The Oscar fish is rehabilitating at The Fish Room in Wilmington, store employee Ethan Lane told The State on Wednesday.

Its former owner, Michael Ray Hinson, was behind bars before being released on $4,000 bond, WRAL reported.

The 53-year-old abandoned the fish after he was evicted from his New Hanover County home March 22, according to WECT. When the Oscar fish was found by deputies March 25, it was “was in poor health and swimming in a dirty tank,” the TV station reported.

“It came in with a disease, hole in the head, which is a parasite that is caused by poor water quality and malnutrition,” Lane told The State. “It was a pretty severe case of the disease, which opens sores and lesions on the fish’s head. It is an infection that can be fatal.”

The fish is being treated with medicine and a healthy diet, something it was not accustomed to, Lane said.

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An Oscar fish was abandoned by its owner, who has been charged with multiple animal abuse crimes. Paul Kitagaki Jr.

Before it was discovered, the only thing keeping the fish alive was eating cockroaches that fell in its tank, Lane said. Even after it was brought to The Fish Room, it was days before the fish ate, because it did not know what the food pellets placed in its tank were, according to Lane.

Unlike a goldfish or betta fish, an Oscar is more of an investment.

“It’s not a cheap fish,” according to Lane, who said a newborn Oscar fish (about an inch long) would sell for an average of $20-$25. But one the size of this fish, 6 inches, would cost between $40 and $50.

The largest a pet Oscar fish could grow is 16 inches, and they are capable of living from 10 to 20 years, Lane said. He estimated this fish is just over a year old.

Lane said it is common for pet owners to bring sick fish into the aquatic pet store, which will help rehabilitate them like an animal hospital might for a dog or cat.

“People don’t know how to care for their fish, so we take them in,” said Lane, who added that there is more to the process than mending a sick pet. “We want people to leave extremely educated and know how to take care of fish.”

A spokesman for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said this is the first time his office has charged a person with animal cruelty toward a fish, WECT reported. But the county will not stand for abuse of any animal.

““If you harm or neglect an animal in New Hanover County, we are coming for you,” Lt. Jerry Brewer said, according to the TV station.

Hinson was charged with three counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals and one count of abandonment of an animal, WRAL reported.

The Oscar fish won’t be returned to Hinson, but its final destination has not been determined.

While it might be put up for adoption, the unnamed fish might also take up permanent residence at The Fish Room, where it would serve as a store mascot, according to Lane. He also said they might set up a tank for the fish at the sheriff’s office since “they saved him.”

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.