NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A New Hanover County man was arrested on animal cruelty charges after he allegedly failed to provide fresh water and food to his pet fish and abandoned it after he was evicted from his home last month.
Michael Ray Hinson, 53, was taken into custody on Wednesday and charged with three counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals and one count of abandonment of an animal. He was given a $4,000 unsecured bond and later released from jail.
Lt. Jerry Brewer, spokesperson for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, said Hinson was evicted from his home on Two Chopt Road on Friday, March 22. Deputies with the agency’s civil unit went to the home the following Monday and noticed that Hinson left behind an Oscar fish that was in poor health and swimming in a dirty tank.
Ethan Lane with the Fish Room, where the fish is being nursed back to health, said an Oscar fish is about $40 to $50 to purchase and can grow up to 16 inches long.
“They are great pets, we call them wet pets. They are very trainable, they have huge personalities, some of them can be aggressive,” Lane explained.
When deputies seized the fish, it appeared to be malnourished and suffering from hole in the head disease which is caused by poor water quality and lack of food.
“When this fish came in, he was in pretty bad shape. Hole in the head is a parasite that starts in the intestines and works from the inside out, slowly killing the fish,” said Lane.
Hole in the head disease forms lesions on the fish’s skin, allowing bacteria to get inside. The disease is fatal if it goes untreated.
“Hole in the head is somewhat common in Oscar fish, but to prevent it, it’s imperative you do constant water quality checks and feed your fish properly,” explained Lane.
Brewer said this is the first time someone has been charged with animal cruelty in New Hanover County in regards to a pet fish.
“But this is a life just like any dog or cat,” Brewer added. “If you harm or neglect an animal in New Hanover County, we are coming for you.”
The fish will continue to recover at The Fish Room in Wilmington, and then will be up for adoption at Animal Services.