Volunteers fished, collected donations to feed animals

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They couldn?t get in the water fast enough.

Three mature river otters, rescued by good Samaritans and rehabilitated by Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, bounded out of a pet crate and dove for the sparkling open water of Lake Sonoma on Monday morning.

?These are the days that make everything worthwhile.

This is one of the happiest days I can remember in a long time,? said Doris Duncan, executive director of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.

The otters included Wilson, one of two otters that roamed the Petaluma neighborhood around Mario and John?s Tavern in June. He was named after the street where a homeowner spotted him.

Monday morning started like a rodeo, with the rogue otters chirping, charging and biting at every turn. Wearing thick leather gloves and working with her daughter, Danielle Mattos, Duncan wrangled three wriggling otters into an oversize kennel.

?They pushed the door back open with their noses and one got back out, but we got them,? Duncan said while Mattos checked an ankle bite that tore her blue jeans.

At 10 a.m. Monday, two boats, including an Army Corps of Engineers craft, motored to the release site, cutting their engines as they slipped up on shore.

By noon, Wilson, the largest otter, was in deep water, leaving air bubble tracks as he explored.

The two smaller otters stuck together, swimming around tree branches exposed along the lake?s banks.

American river otters are common along Sonoma County waterways, but they avoid human contact and aren?t often found in plain sight.

The otter captured with Wilson earlier this summer died shortly after rescue. The two other otters released Monday included one found in Kenwood and one sent from another wildlife center.

The otters are believed to be 4 to 5 months old, and the care and feeding they received at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue paid off, volunteers said. The furry trio spent their time at the rescue center playing and feasting on live fish, with volunteers providing their meals, just as a mother otter would.

?I just did the stuff that I would do anyway. It was fun catching fish for the otters,? said Steve Herrin of Cotati, who fished with Jason Gooch at Gooch?s bass-stocked pond in Petaluma.

Some of the money for the otters? rehabilitation came from collection boxes strategically placed atop fish counters in local grocery stores.

?The markets were wonderful to us, and the people were so generous, very few coins and lots of fives and tens,? said volunteer Bob Kinsman, who helped with some of the donation boxes. ?We raised a lot of money for their care that way.?

After the release, Duncan returned to the wildlife center on Mecham Road, where she erased the otters? entry off the big white animal-care board.

Then she made a note to get their former enclosure ready for bunnies again.

Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue rehabilitates more than 1,000 wild animals annually and offers educational school programs. It can be reached at 526-9453.

You can reach Staff Writer Rayne Wolfe at 521-5240 or rayne.wolfe@pressdemocrat.com.

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