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Father shoots otter after it attacks 7-year-old boy

Originally ran here as:
"Boy recovers after otter attack"
"7-year-old gets 14 stitches, undergoes treatment for rabies exposure after animal chased down, bit him"
By Paula Reed Ward, Morris News Service
Augusta Chronicle, Friday, July 27, 2001

SAVANNAH - A 7-year-old boy was attacked by an otter this week at a Tybee Island dock.

The boy suffered one serious bite and has begun treatment for potential rabies exposure, according to the Chatham County Health Department.

Steven Rousakis, the grandson of former Savannah Mayor John Rousakis, was fishing with friends on a dock in the Back River about 8 p.m. Tuesday when they noticed an otter swimming in the river. The otter went up on the dock and stole bait fish out of a bucket, said Diane Rousakis, Steven's mom.

''Everybody thought it was neat and started taking pictures,'' she said.

A few minutes later, Steven walked past the bucket, and the female otter attacked. She chased the boy down the dock and grabbed his leg, causing a 3-inch gash that needed 14 stitches.

''My son was getting ready to jump into the river,'' Ms. Rousakis said. ''Thank goodness he didn't.''

Bennett Bacon, 14, who was on the dock at the same time, kicked the otter, grabbed Steven and swung him around to get the animal off. The otter went back in the water but returned, Bennett said. He then hit it with a casting net, sending it into the river again.

''This otter was particularly vicious,'' said Sharon Varn, a rabies-prevention specialist at the health department. ''It chased the boy, retreated and attacked again.''

About 30 minutes after the attack, the otter chased more people off the dock, including the Bacons' dog, Sticks, a Boykin spaniel. At that point, Bennett's dad shot the otter. Its head was also cut off, Ms. Rousakis said.

It is possible, Ms. Varn said, the otter was not rabid and instead was protecting offspring that might have been under the dock.

''She was taking the fish under the dock, like she was hoarding it or hiding it,'' Ms. Rousakis said.

The health department has asked the Department of Natural Resources to check if the otter had any pups near the site of the attack.

Laura Kovalek, a sea-otter aquarist at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California, said she was not surprised by the attack.

''You don't normally have otters running around attacking people,'' Ms. Kovalek said. ''But the common perception is that they're playful ... and they're not playful animals.''

Normally, otters will not approach people, Ms. Kovalek said, but they will bite if they feel threatened or their young are in danger.

''To me, that's very normal behavior,'' she said.

Ms. Varn, who expects to have the results of the rabies test back today, said this otter was aggressive.

''It certainly displayed symptoms and behavior that a rabid animal would have,'' she said.

In recent weeks, otters from Talahi and Oatland islands have tested positive for rabies. There have also been two otter attacks at a lagoon in The Landings. Two of three otters there were captured but tested negative for rabies.

Steven started treatment Wednesday morning, receiving a total of seven injections. If the otter tests negative, Steven will stop treatment. If not, he'll have to continue receiving injections every few days. But for now, he's doing well, his mom said.

''He's a little trooper,'' she said. ''His advice is to stay away from wild animals.''

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