September 21, 2012 | Back to: Local News

16 years later, goldfish still enchanting owners

For first-time fish owners, on average, how long does a goldfish live? Two to three weeks? Not the case for Barbara Cramer’s 16-year-old goldfish Cleo.

“We always expected her to die, and she never did,” said Cramer during an August interview with The Union. “And now I think she’s going to outlast us because I’m 80, my husband’s 81, what if she lasts another 10 years?”

While living in Truckee in 1996, Cramer visited Grass Valley and took her two grandsons, Alex and Daniel, to the Nevada County Fair. The boys played one of the coin-tossing games, and both won a goldfish. But Cramer’s daughter-in-law said she couldn’t keep them because her cat was a fish-killer.

“So I said, alright, I’ll take them, and of course, two days later, one of them died,” said Cramer.

But the other one didn’t. The survivor, Cleo, started out in a small fish bowl but outgrew it and was transferred to a larger tank, complete with a filter.

“I don’t even know if it’s female,” said Cramer. “But I’ve always been infatuated with ‘Pinocchio,’ and I loved the fish Cleo, so that’s why I named her that.”

Cleo’s age alone is unusual for a goldfish, but she also has a few tricks up her scales.

“Everybody has been pushing me to tell The Union about the fish, but I said no. I feel stupid,” said Cramer.

But Cramer’s neighbor finally convinced her saying the fish is unbelievable, both her age and what she does.

“I first noticed the tricks when I’d walk over to the tank to feed her. I held the food up, and she’d start her flips,” said Cramer. “And that might be it, when she thinks she’s getting fed.”

Eventually, Cleo started doing it more often. Now she often lays on the bottom of the tank and only when Cramer walks by or talks to her will she start to swim.

“Up until two weeks ago she was doing more flipping, she’s not doing it as much now,” said Cramer. “So I’m wondering if it’s finally her time.”

Cleo had a close call when Cramer and her husband moved to Nevada City five years ago. While driving, her tank got cloudy from the rocks. When they arrived, she was found floating on top of the tank.

“I told my son, ‘Oh no, Cleo died,’” said Cramer. “But he said, ‘No mom, look. Her gills
are moving!’”

He quickly put her in a clean bowl of water and performed fish CPR by moving her from side to side, and suddenly, she started swimming again.

“My grandsons are now 24 and 20 and both away in college,” said Cramer. “They’ll call me and ask, ‘Is Cleo still around, grandma?’”

According to Guinness World Records, the oldest captive goldfish lived to be 43 years old in the U.K. Cleo was just about an inch long in 1996, and now she’s grown more than 6 inches.

“I hope Cleo lasts forever,” said Cramer. “I hope I don’t have to see her die because I’ll tell ya I’m gonna be a basket case over a fish! I told my husband she’s gonna get a proper burial like all of our dogs do. She’ll have her little box, and we’re gonna put a little cross out there — no toilet flushing for her!”

Ryan Gallagher is a University of Nevada student working as an intern with The Union. Contact him via email at or call (530) 477-4234.

Ryan Gallagher
Staff Writer

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The Union Updated Sep 24, 2012 04:58PM Published Sep 24, 2012 05:15PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.