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Tales from the Bark Side: Remembering Sue, Al and Plucky -- the 'seeing eye plecostomus'

Welcome back to the bark side of life here in Ottertail, where the snow has been melting away very much like the wicked witch of the west (or was it east?) from the "Wizard of Oz."

Waiting for spring to come has been like climbing a steep hill in an automobile that hasn't enough horsepower to make it without the motor laboring horribly; come on baby, you can do it! Some times it feels like the more you want something to happen, the slower it comes to fruition. And... as I finish the last sentence and casually glance out the window, it's beginning to snow once more. Auch tu lieber! Go figure.

In writing my "tales from the bark side," I often find myself pondering (not pandering) about some of life's little mysteries. This week, I'm going to go a different direction from our four and two-legged friends and explore the "logic vs. instinct "characteristics of... ready for this? Tropical fish!!!

I know more than a few fishermen (and lady fishers too) will attest to the cunning and guile of walleyes, northern pike, bass, and the all too elusive rainbow trout. This column is not about game fish... it's about those diminutive darlings that we spend so much money for and all they do is stare back at you in amazement and wonder. Do they reason?

Besides having eight purebred barkers, we happen to have a 55-gallon fish tank in that pie slice under the stairs that usually is considered wasted space in most homes or used as a storage space or a closet.

My stepson Jake is a very accomplished carpenter, and he not only cut open the wall in which the fish tank sits, but he built an oak cabinet under it too. We can look through the tank to the next room, and it is a real joy to sit and watch the little fishies swimming back and forth doing their thing (whatever that is).

When Cindy (my wife) and I moved back here from California in 2002, we brought a 20-gallon fish tank, one-third full of water, and several fish. This was before we became Rosswood Kennels. In no time, we were up and running and had our favorite fish acclimated to their new environment. I name just about everything that walks, crawls, swims, and locomotes in any fashion. This trait I have inherited from my father. In my mind, it makes sense to call them something, and the more creative the name, so much the better.

I tend to believe that tropical fish possess 90 percent instinct and maybe 10 percent logic. Let me explain. A plecostomus is an algae eater or algae sucker, and our rather large male was named Plucky (sounds much better than sucky).

Along with Plucky was an albino corydoras named Al (as in bino). Those of you who haven't thrown the paper away by now, please hang in there.

We (the wife being more knowledgeable about fish than myself) bought several small angel fish, which in time grew to a fairly good size. I named the female fish male names because it's hard to tell the difference at an early age.

So, there we were with female fish bearing masculine names, exhibiting behaviors that sure looked like they were using logic.

Presently, we are down to just one -- rather large -- angelfish, and his name is Sue. Yep! We thought he was a female like all the others and lo and behold... Sue was a guy. Sue will swim over to the top of the tank when I walk up to feed him and the rest of the other aquatic clan.

Is he conditioned to come over, or has Sue figured it out all on his own?

All the other game fish I've come in contact with see me and head for deeper waters (explaining my dismal fishing reputation). Sue will follow my finger if I drag it close to the side of the tank. He is so obedient.

Albino corydoras (catfish) are basically blind, and watching Al bump into things inside the tank is relatively humorous. He would propel himself to the surface and collide with whatever was near at the time.

Al hung around with his best buddy, Plucky, and used him as his "seeing eye plecostomus." The two were inseparable.

Both of them have moved on (a burial at sea is what we call the fast lane down the toilet), and just the thought of them makes me wonder how much reasoning they possessed. I have friends who have koi fish who would swim to the surface whenever they came out the back door next to their pond... waiting to be fed their tasty koi pellets.

Whether they have reasoning skills or not, I believe tropical fish have therapeutic powers that do mellow out a person if they sit there long enough -- long enough to witness them perform countless acts of logic? Who knows?

If you have a tale concerning the intelligence of fish, fowl or mammal, e-mail me at or write to me at Keith Alan Ross, Richville MN 56576 or phone me at 218-495-2195. That does it for this week.

Until next time...