Just minutes into our interview with Joe Skoke at his Glendale home, we watched him put a dead fish in a plastic grocery store bag.
“It just chokes me up every time,” he said.
With overnight lows near 90 degrees, the koi fish didn’t get a break from the blistering heat this week. Stoke has raised the fish for 14 years and they’ve never succumbed to the heat. He shades them with awnings and just added an outdoor fan aimed at the pond he created, but it wasn't enough.
He spent thousands on saving the remaining fish. He bought large tanks so he can move them inside in the air conditioning.
And he’s doing all this work with a disability – he has a spinal disease.
“I’ve had three surgeries on my neck, so this is all fused," he said. "I’ve had two on my back."
After the last surgery put him out of work permanently, he didn’t reach retirement.
“God brought this to me for a reason. Maybe he wants me to do this to supplement myself in retirement years,” he said.
He works through pain because he says each life means more to him than just dollar signs – before he needed money, they were just his source of joy.
“I built my pond. I could come home, get in the pond, talk to the fish, feed them out of my hand,” he said.
Now the pond is a source of stress. He tested the temperature, and the thermometer read 86 degrees.
"When the water gets hot, they don’t have enough oxygen, so they start stressing,” he said.
Joe says he’ll keep strategizing to save the fish this summer.
“It’s all I can do,” he said. “Keep trying.”
Joe, who also goes by “Koiman” says the fish become distressed at 82 degrees.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, heat can start to harm cats and dogs at 80 degrees.