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Florida family fights off otter attack in their home

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

A Lakeland family and their dog are recovering after they say an otter entered their home and attacked last week.

Gwyneth Ewert, 17, had just let their family dog, Scooter, outside their house off Pipkin Road about 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 4 when she heard him barking and screeching on the back porch. When she opened the door, Scooter ran inside and an otter was chasing him.

The teen’s mother, Lakeland High School biology teacher Casina Ewert, said she was awakened by her daughter’s screams and rushed to the kitchen.

“She tried to shut the door, and it pushed its way in, hissing and screaming,” Casina Ewert said. The otter then turned and bit the teen on the leg and attacked Scooter, a 2-year-old French bulldog, in the living room and dining room.

“There was blood on the floor, the otter was hissing, and my daughter was screaming. It was going to kill my dog and had already bitten my daughter,” Ewert said.

The mother grabbed the otter by its tail and held it up in the air. “And it was thrashing around and trying to bite me,” she said.

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She ran to the back door, threw the otter outside and slammed the door.

Ewert said she teaches about otters in biology, but because of the commotion, she didn’t know immediately it was an otter until she had it by its tail.

“That is when I looked at it and realized it was a crazy otter,” she said.

The whole ruckus lasted about three minutes, she said.

“I would do anything to save my kid,” she said.

The immediate concern, she said, was rabies. Her daughter found out she was allergic to the rabies vaccine when she was bitten by a stray dog while doing mission work in Nicaragua. She received a rabies shot then and was hospitalized.

“She goes into anaphylaxis shock, her throat closes and she turns white. The LRMC staff knew of her past reaction and we took every precaution when giving the vaccine. She did not react (this time),” Ewert said.

Scooter suffered scratches on his face and several lacerations on his face and feet, and was treated with a rabies booster. He will be quarantined for three or four months, Ewert said.

'Never an otter'

An animal trapper who took special interest in the attack, Dustin Hooper of All Creatures Wildlife Control, said that all the years he has served in wildlife trapping, he has never seen or heard of an otter attack.

“Never an otter,” he said.

“I went out to look for it,” he said. “I was hoping to see it — it attacked a friend of mine’s dog, and they had to put the dog down,” Hooper said.

Noting the otter population in Florida is increasing, he said it is not known whether the otter had rabies, but added “it is certainly acting like that.”

Otters eat mostly fish, he said, and are known to clean out well-stocked ponds and move on to another lake.

They are also fast creatures, he added, noting he was once riding in a golf cart on the Cleveland Heights Golf Course and an otter racing on the green was going faster than the golf cart.

“We could not catch up with it. Beautiful animals,” he said.

Neighborhood warnings

In an email to The Ledger Tuesday, Bryce Phillippi, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman, said that the FWC is investigating the incident, as well as a case where two domestic dogs encountered a river otter near Dorman Road in Lakeland earlier this week.

An otter was trapped on Friday, Phillippi said, and humanely killed.

“While we are confident that the otter that was removed was most likely the otter involved in the incident, we can never be 100% sure,” he said.

One of the two domestic dogs that encountered the river otter was a puppy that had to be euthanized following the incident.

Phillippi said the otter was not tested for rabies, according to Department of Health protocol.

Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at kberkowitz@theledger.com or at 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @kberkowitzthel1.

This story originally published to theledger.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.