Friday, August 20, 2004

Get Otter My Way

The attached article is no laughing matter, but I have to admit that I would have loved to have seen this crazed otter chasing a swimming class. It sounds like a really bad horror movie. The kids I used to teach swimming to were dopey enough that they probably wouldn't have been able to figure out an escape and instead of just a bite, they would have been killed.

I was a lifeguard back in the day ... I can't remember any training for what to do if an otter attacks, but the lifeguards on the scene here seemed to know what to do. Baywatch Putnam has a nice ring to it. Nice work guards!

From the Poughkeepsie Journal (The third oldest newspaper in the USA and The oldest newspaper in New York):
Friday, August 20, 2004
Rabid otter attacks boy in Putnam
Animal killed after chasing swim class

By Nik Bonopartis

PUTNAM VALLEY -- A rabies-infested otter was shot dead by a sheriff's deputy Wednesday after it chased down and bit a Putnam Valley boy at a local swimming spot, the Putnam County Sheriff's Office said.

Six-year-old Ethan Pederson was taking swimming lessons at a community swimming area in a small lake in the town, police said, when he escaped from the water with the otter hanging onto his back and legs.

The lifeguards were able to wrestle the otter off Pederson, but the animal began chasing other people in the immediate area. Police said the otter ran back into the water several times but returned and tried to attack the rest of the people in the swimming class.

Sheriff's deputies were called to the lake about 11:16 a.m. Lifeguards were able to trap the otter under a plastic crate before police arrived, and a deputy killed the animal.

Test positive

The otter was turned over to the Putnam County Department of Health and tested positive for rabies, police said.

With the exception of the ocean-faring sea otter, otters are fresh-water mammals that generally have brown fur and grow to about four feet in length.

The normally nocturnal, semi-aquatic freshwater otters prefer to eat coarse fish, salmonoids and eels, according to the nonprofit group Working For Wildlife. Otters have also been known to hunt birds when the opportunity presents itself, the group said.

Boy doing well

Pederson was treated for a puncture wound to his hand and several scratches on his back, as well as for rabies. Police said they last spoke with Pederson's mother Thursday afternoon and were told the boy is doing well.

Otters infected with rabies are rare but not unheard of, said Steve Capowski, director of environmental health services at the Dutchess County Health Department.

''We haven't had an occurrence of it (in Dutchess), but they're a mammal, and they're capable'' of contracting the disease, he said.

Capowski said people should avoid close contact with wild animals and especially look after their pets to avoid rabies. He recommends having pets vaccinated as well, as they can get exposed and pass the infection on to pet owners.

The sheriff's office called the case unusual for Putnam County but advised local residents to be careful around wildlife in the area as a precaution.

Aggressive behavior by wild or domestic animals should be reported to the sheriff's office by calling 845-225-4399.

Nik Bonopartis can be reached at

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