Call It a Carp or a Koi, It's Still a 'Living Jewel'

To hear Chris Bushman tell it, the colorful carp called koi may not seem likely candidates for household pets, but their tendency to live long lives does have its reward.

"If you get a pet koi when you are a kid, it'll last you all your life," the 38-year-old film laboratory manager said. "It's not like a cat or a dog."

Bushman should know. The North Hollywood resident, a koi collector for eight years, served last weekend as chairman of the U. S. District Zen Nippon Airinkai Koi Show at the Gardena Civic Center. More than 530 koi were corraled in plastic tubs resembling wading pools as six judges, two of whom journeyed from Japan for the event, decided which of the fish most lived up to their reputation as "living jewels."

Bushman explained that the two-day competition was considered the premier koi show held in the United States this year by the Zen Nippon Airinkai (translation: "all fish appreciation society"). The group, he said, boasts a membership of 14,000, with 65 chapters throughout the world.

The show spawned entries from 95 families from California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, according to Bushman. The fish were segregated into seven size categories, ranging from several inches to several feet, and then ranked by the judges on their configuration, color, shape and definition of pattern.

No official attendance records were kept, but Bushman estimated that 3,000 people showed up on the first day of the show to view the koi and gain some firsthand knowledge of a fish believed to have been introduced into the Orient in the 13th Century by Genghis Khan, who came across koi during his conquest of Persia.

"Actually, these aren't edible fish, are they?" a middle-aged woman asked Bushman as she peered into one of the tubs.

"They are," Bushman answered.

"They are?" the woman asked.

"Yes, but actually lobster is an awfully lot cheaper and an awfully lot better tasting," Bushman replied.

Many of those attending the show, however, needed no introduction to koi. For example, Robert Gosling, owner of a Marina del Rey landscaping firm that builds koi ponds, said he entered 32 fish in the competition. He said he had scooped 15 of the fish from the ponds of his clients and brought them to the show.

"Most of my clients are very, very wealthy," Gosling explained. "A lot are millionaires. You can't imagine these guys getting up at 5 a.m. and netting their fish to bring them to the show."

While Gosling's entries swam away with a 10 awards, the grand champion prize got away from him. That went to a red and white, 25-inch fish owned by Katsuji Nerio of Chino. The runner-up grand champion ribbon went to a koi of about the same size owned by Taisho Sanshoku, a retired Torrance businessman.

Bushman said that while many koi have been known to live for decades--legend has it that one koinow living in Japan is 225 years old--the show's grand champion and runner-up grand champion were youngsters by comparison. The fish, both imported from their native Japan, are believed to be 8 and 9 years old, respectively, he said.

And while some championship koi have reportedly fetched sale prices of nearly $100,000 for their owners, Bushman said the show's grand champion might command $10,000 if it were sold today. Maybe.

"Koi aren't like used cars where you can look it up in a Kelly Blue Book," he said. "It all depends on how much someone wants to pay. It's only worth $10,000 if someone wants to pay $10,000."

Using Animals as Therapy

On day recently, health care at the Bay Harbor Rehabilitation Center appeared to have gone to the birds, as well as the dogs, cats and rabbits.

The animals, it turned out, were just making their regular rounds as part of a regular treatment program aimed at boosting patients' spirits and making their stay a little nicer.

Recreation therapist Marilyn Anderson said the animals have been paraded from room to room by hospital staff members for the past two years. The grand marshal is usually Caesar, a bright blue macaw that perches atop a gurney used as a mobile pet center.

While the treatment program is not unique to the 200-bed Torrance facility, one aspect of Bay Center's program may be a little unusual: Staff members may take the animals home at night. And while the only requirement is that an employee express a willingness, there is one additional demand placed anyone who wants to take Honey Bear, a 3-month-old pup.

"Honey Bear can go to any staff member's home that would like to take him, providing they can prove that they don't have other animals with fleas," Anderson said.

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