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Saturday, August 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Hurt otter is saved by animal protectors
By Diane Brooks
He's way cuter than his name.
No. 042345 stares curiously at visitors, his bushy, white whiskers quivering as he considers his options diving sinuously back into his concrete pool or dashing across his roomy cage to a drier hiding place.
In the hands of your average animal lover, the young river otter would be sporting a moniker such as "Lucky."
Just eight weeks ago, he apparently was clipped on the head by a passing train as he crossed the railroad tracks, making his usual circuit between the Edmonds Marina and an inland marsh. The blow fractured his skull and a neck vertebra, knocking him into a coma.
But the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which nursed him back to health, never names the wild creatures that pass through its Lynnwood-area doors.
"Whenever anyone asks me what an animal's name is, I always say, 'I don't know, he hasn't told me,' " said PAWS naturalist Kevin Mack, who on Tuesday will help release the otter back into the wild.
"The Otter," as he's known at PAWS, will be freed on an Edmonds beach near the spot where he was found June 6, lying in the center of the tracks. He's assumed to belong to a group of river otters that lives in the area year-round.
PAWS veterinarian John Huckabee figures the otter was struck by an Amtrak passenger train, which then passed over the knocked-out creature. An otter probably would hear and feel the approach of a freight train, he said, and run for safety.
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway track inspector found the motionless otter in the middle of the tracks around 8:30 a.m. and called 911. It was a hot spring day, even at that early hour, so he shaded the injured animal beneath his vehicle a pickup truck converted for rail travel.
Edmonds animal control Officer Deb Dawson picked him up about 30 minutes later and drove him to PAWS. She didn't expect him to survive she's seen too many deer, sea lions and dogs killed by trains, she said.
Several days later he emerged from his coma, but he remained woozy and unresponsive. The PAWS staff and volunteers worried he might be blind or otherwise brain-damaged.
Huckabee was on an Oregon trail July 7, headed for a waterfall, when he got good news via cellphone. Staff members had slipped the otter into a water-filled tub, mostly for a bath, unintentionally shocking him into alertness.
One moment he was in a stupor; the next he was trying to escape.
"It was a very rapid change," Huckabee said, laughing.
Now the otter is back to normal and able to catch live herring in his pen's 4-foot-deep pool. He eats nearly 1,000 fish a week though not the heads, which he bites off first and leaves lying around the pool.
"It's very satisfying to see how we were able to pull him through this," Huckabee said. "To send him back out is very exciting."
Yesterday, the track inspector who found the otter learned of his survival.
"He was overjoyed to hear the animal is alive," said railway spokesman Gus Melonas, who wouldn't give the employee's name.
"He said this certainly made his week."
Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or email@example.com
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