I’m having performance anxiety. Stitch told me that she is breathlessly awaiting the post about my Otter Experience Weekend so she can revel in every last detail.
But I’m kind of spent.
YOU WOULD BE TOO! I’m telling you, there is nothing in this world like playing with otters.
It all started when this video showed up in my FB feed in July.
I sent it to my childhood BFF toot sweet and she was like, Let’s do it! and I was like, Yes! Let’s do it!
And then somehow she got a reservation (the current waitlist is 50,000 people long and only 30 people get in a week) and time flew by and whaddaya know, we’re in San Diego.
Sonya isn’t the most spontaneous person I know – after all, she has a family, a job, a dog – so I was surprised when she pulled the trigger, and I’m really glad she did (thankyouthankyouthankyou!) otherwise it would have been another one of those one of those I really want to do this but never actually do kind of things.
So cutting to the chase, she signed us up, paid the $300 each (worth it) and when the time came we got tickets to San Diego and planned a much needed trip together.
We’ve been best friends since preschool where we grew up one house away from each other in Salt Lake City, she’s the closest thing I have to a sister.
Things got dicey when she married my then brother-in-law (whom she met at my wedding to husband No. 1) and then I proceeded to blow up my marriage later that month and fuck everything up.
It was a dick move on my part on every level. I got to walk away from that mess eventually but she’s had to live with the aftermath ever since and the taint of being associated with me. What a way to start a marriage and a family. Add it to my long list of regrets and things I am really sorry about.
Needless to say, it hasn’t been easy getting together and this little vacation has been a long time coming.
I didn’t know much about Nurtured by Nature except that I’d get to be in a pool with otters. I didn’t expect more than to wait in line and get ushered into a kiddy pool for five minutes of photo op, which now in retrospect is a terrible idea for otters or any kind of wild animal. Done poorly it turns them into entertainers which puts their earning potential before their well-being.
Little did I know that I would have a half-day, full immersive, educational, and lethally adorable experience.
Nurtured by Nature is located on the rim of a lush valley on 5+ acres of shaded land. The owners, Kevin and Wendy Yates, live on-site with a caretaker (also living on-site) and a full-time employee name Britney, not to mention a small army of volunteers.
We were met in the lot with our group of nine participants and ushered past a pair of Fennec foxes and some baby otters so we could handle the necessary details of getting releases signed and basic rules of conduct.
Walking past the babies was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
We spent the first part of the day touring the facility and spent a good deal of time in a shaded, fenced off area on cushions where animals were brought in to hang out. The owners emphasize that only animals who voluntarily go with the handlers are brought in, animals are never forced to interact if they don’t want to, which is a common criticism of these types of interactive experiences.
Before we meet an animal, we are told about them, given insights to their temperament, and given advice on how best to interact in a way that doesn’t stress them out. Our time interacting with them was done while Wendy talked about their background and history.
I’m not an expert on animal welfare, but it was my feeling that they care very much for their animals and put their needs first, even if it meant disappointing visitors.
We visited other animals in their enclosures. All were spacious, clean, shaded, and had automatic water misters should the temperature climb above 95 degrees. They are licensed by the Department of Wildlife and are constantly monitored and certified. Social animals were in pairs or groups.
We took a break for water and snacks (which were generously provided) on the cool back porch of their home, then we changed into our suits.
I was ready to plunge into cold water but was delighted to find that the water was heated and very warm. It was also lightly chlorinated.
Kevin explained that the chlorination doesn’t bother the otters and since there are only three or four groups of people that come through each week. There are four groups of otters that participate in the “swims” they only are exposed to chlorine for about an hour a week.
The have fresh water in their enclosures to rinse off in and don’t seem bothered by it at all. Another fun fact: otters only defecate and urinate on land which keeps the water clean. Again, only otters that voluntarily come to the gate are taken to the pool to swim, they are never forced. When they look ready to leave, they are taken away.
When Britney and Kevin showed up with four otters in their arms, they could barely keep the little fellas from knocking down the gate. They wanted to swim!
Are you ready for this?
Kevin, Wendy and Britney brought out all kinds of pool toys and props to interest the otters. They likened them to a bunch of toddlers with ADHD. They would be into something, drop it, and then be onto something else. It was our job to provide them with fun stuff to do, distract them with toys if they were being naughty (like nibbling) and never ever restrain them or push them around.
Wendy and Britney were in the water with us at all times while Kevin manned the perimeter and handed us cameras. We were asked to be playful but calm and the team made sure that everyone was behaving.
It was far and above the Seaworld-like experience I thought I would get. It was intimate, relaxed, and so cute I almost died a bunch of times from euphoria.
There was a lot of time to talk to Wendy and Kevin about what they do. Kevin bought the land 20 years ago and worked as a professional in exotic animal care for 30 years.
They were given a pair of Asian Small Clawed Otters to care for as babies twelve years ago. Those two were the start of their breeding program and they have been breeding and caring for otters ever since.
I asked them where the otters went after they grew up.
Many stay while some go to zoos and preserves. Kevin said it is very hard for them to give up their otters because they care for them like family. The babies are hand fed, come into the house to play, and are not considered commodities. In fact, they spend a lot time vetting potential new homes to ensure that they are cared for as well as they would be at Nurtured by Nature.
I also asked if they are hit up by people who want to start their own otter experience. Kevin said they are very reluctant to talk to people about it because he (rightfully) feels like most people see dollar signs and that is the wrong reason to care for these animals.
Kevin and Wendy could easily expand and make a mint, but their mission is to care for their otters (and a few other species) and to raise money for their 501c3, they provide experiences for Make-A-Wish, and support an otter conservation group out of Scotland (I forget the name). If they brought too many people through, it would make it a job for the otters and not fun for them.
Check out their website, stalk their reservation calendar for cancellations, and just go. It was an experience of a lifetime and one that I don’t feel in the least bit icky about, as I often do whenever I go to a zoo.
We arrived at 10am and left around 2, we made it back to the hotel just in time for massages and facials. I’m telling you, it was the Best. Day. Ever.
This is kind of funny, we stayed at a hotel that was adjacent to Legoland. We took this picture just to fuck with our kids.
We spent the rest of the weekend driving around, going to the beach, hiking, and eating great Mexican food.
I love tide pools and being back in La Jolla reminded me of the Christmasses when my dad and I (Hi Dad!) drove here to be with his sister and my cousins.
Yeah, the kids were pissed. Itchy kept sending incendiary texts in hopes of making me feel guilty. Did he ever pick the wrong target.
Boobzilla kept me up-to-date on stuff going down at home …
I flew home early this morning …
… and arrived to mixed reviews. Itchy met me on the sidewalk with Scheissehund, there was much forced Frenching. Blue was super happy to see me as was Loony. But I had to immediately vacuum because the floors were nasty. But I also got lots of hugs and love.
I drove to the bike park to pick Scratchy up from a birthday party and he said, “Mom! You’re home! Can I have some money for the ice cream truck?!”
Some things never change. I’m happy to be home and over the moon at having had such a unique and rare experience. And I have the best story ever.