By William Lailey and James Somper
An otter loving granny has lived with otters for 40 years – and says that they even help her cook and do the washing up.
Daphne Neville, 82, first rescued Bee the otter in 1980 and has lived with them ever since.
The grandmother-of-four from Stroud, Gloucs, has kept her fury friends in a special enclosure in her garden and even brings them into her bed.
Daphne, an actress and writer, said her current and tenth otter Rudi loves nothing more than perching on her shoulder as she makes breakfast or washes the dishes.
She said: “Otters are incredibly affectionate and loving. They’re very sensitive and very human and they’re good at showing you what they want.
“Rudi loves helping me do the washing up or cooking. He’ll sit on my shoulder as I scrub up and sometimes he’s even dived into the sink.
“If he’s on my shoulder when I’m cooking he’ll have a good sniff too.
“I have to make sure he’s controlled when he’s in the house though, he’s tried to get into the cupboards a few times and it can be utter chaos.”
Daphne adopted her first otter – Bee – in 1980 while she was campaigning against pollution in Britain’s rivers.
Bee was originally used to show government ministers the impact of pollution on otters and was used for publicity events.
But Daphne and her husband Martin took a shining to Bee – and have had since looked after nine otters: Mr Bee, Mr Bumble, Bitty, Beenie, Bertie, Belinda, Toby, Phoebe and Rudi.
Rudi lives in a secure, Environment Agency approved enclosure in Daphne’s sprawling water mill and is fed on a diet of trout which Daphne says she stockpiles in five enormous chest freezers.
Otters are classed as dangerous animals under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 meaning that Daphne has to follow strict guidelines when looking after Rudi.
Despite this, Daphne will frequently put Rudi on her shoulder for half-an-hour day as she goes about her daily chores to be close to her.
Daphne said: “We go and feed the swans and other animals at the mill. He doesn’t like being in his enclosure all the time, he loves being on my shoulder when I’m doing the washing up or cooking.
“It’s a huge commitment to have them and I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to do it.
“Having an otter is a bit like having a child and certainly more expensive but worth every penny.
“I’ve had them for 40 years and have loved every moment.
“We got Bee and then decided to get a friend Mr Bee but they didn’t mate.
“I was hooked from there.
“Not many people have much to do with them but if you find and orphaned otter you get very attached to them.”
Over the years, Daphne says the otters have played an integral role in her life and that’s she even brought them into her bed.
She said: “When my husband was dying at home from cancer the otters came in and said hello to him.
“They were there in his final days and I know how much he loved them.
“When one of my otters is tiny I’ll bring them into my bed to make sure they’re warm and sometimes I’ll bring them back in when they’re coming towards the end of their lives.
“They’ve been a delight and I hope we’ve been able to spread a love of natural history to people.”