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Richmond Hill fish has will to live

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You can take your pick of any fish at Cameo Pet Shop in Richmond Hill, just not this one.

Buttkiss, a South American black pacu fish, has had a life for the ages. It turns 43 April 1, shattering life expectancy figures for its type of fish. Black pacus, cousins to the pirhana, live until about 20 on average, according to Steve Gruebel, 60, the longtime owner of Cameo Pet Shop.

“He’s in his third lifetime,” Gruebel said of Buttkiss, named in 1967 for Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, the favorite player of one of the store’s employees back then.

In magic marker, Buttkiss’ tank lists his date of birth and informs Cameo Pet Shop customers that he cannot be had.

“He’s not for sale. Never has been,” said Gruebel, a Hamilton Beach resident. “This is Richmond Hill’s fish. All the kids in the neighborhood grew up with this fish. He’s like the store mascot.”

Buttkiss, who shows no signs of slowing down save for a cloudy eye due to the fish rubbing itself against the glass of his tank, is fed a diet of about 20 to 25 goldfish a day and swims in a 75-gallon tank, Gruebel said.

“He’s been in that tank for as long as I can remember and he hasn’t complained once,” Gruebel said.

Buttkiss became a media sensation after National Public Radio told the story of the 42-year-old, 23-inch-long fish earlier this month. Gruebel said Buttkiss may possibly be the oldest South American black pacu fish in the world.

Gruebel was 14 when he first got Buttkiss, which was bought from a wholesaler and then sold in 1968.

Two years later, Gruebel got Buttkiss back after the black pacu got too big for his prior owner’s tank.

Despite the media attention, Gruebel said business has not picked up at Cameo, at 115-23 Jamaica Ave.

“The problem today is there are no children in the aquarium hobby,” he said. “Parents are more apt to buying a computer game instead of something with a responsibility. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, every kid had a 10-gallon tank in their room. It’s too bad. It’s the end of a hobby.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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