Olive and Oliver were two domesticated river otters that we had the custody of for over a year in the mid-sixties. Kent built a huge cage for them in the backyard of our suburban home. The cage was tall and had man-made rocks with a waterfall and deep pools for the otters. I wish there was a photo of that cage. It was quite an accomplishment. The story of the otters and the hi-jinx and trouble they caused was documented in
A Fine and Peaceful Kingdom - Kent's third book. However, Roger shared stories I had never heard. I'll let you hear his memory of helping with the otters for the Lassie show.
I was about 15 years old when Kent hired me to help with the otters. It was one of the best times of my youth when I had the opportunity to work with Kent and the otters.
I will always remember the first time I was introduced to the otters. Kent took me over to the house and into the back yard where they were playing in their cage. They were having a great time till they saw us and then it was all eyes on us. At the time I thought they were huge and wondered just how I was supposed to help with them.
The first time I had any contact with them was when we took them up to Sespe Creek. As the book says,the farther we drove the more nervous I got. The place Kent had picked out was quiet, with the creek running below. The place we parked was on top of a large set of rocks with a perfect slide about fifteen feet long. When I opened the door Oliver was out like a shot and found the perfect place to slide down to the pool below. We didn't have to worry about him leaving, he was having too much fun. We stayed there for I think three days getting some great shots.
After we went home the producers decided they wanted a shot of the otters pushing a log for part of the show. Kent used some Styrofoam to carve two otter heads and he nailed them to a log. He tied a string to the log and I had to get into the water and pull the log along the bank. Great memories.
The fun of working with Olive was great. Oliver on the other hand kept me on my toes. I was lucky, he only got to nip me 3 or 4 times. I guess you could say he taught me the beginning of some fine dance steps. I still have the book Kent signed and gave me. It has a special place in my library. Like Kent I never got to see the Lassie show with the otters. Maybe they will have re-runs of the show.
Here is a short amount of footage from the "A Wild Life Photographer at Work" short film that is on the Gifts of an Eagle DVD. There is Roger warily opening the door for the otters. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Roger! Kent didn't include the part about the Styrofoam otters in the book. I wonder why? :-)