12/30/2009 at 04:08 PM EST
When their homes were washed away by heavy rains, two baby otters in England found refuge at the Secret World Wildlife Rescue.
Named Puddle and Tiny Toni, the wee cubs are being hand-fed and taught to swim in a bathtub until they can one day be released back into the wild.
"We've had an awful lot of rain this year," Secret World's founder, Pauline Kidner, tells PEOPLEPets.com. "Otters have their holts [homes] built into the side of rivers and as the water rises, it washes the otters out." Kidner's organization typically rescues one or two otter cubs annually, but this year, they have saved seven.
"Baby otters can't swim and they have fluffy fur that traps air and keeps them floating on top of the water," Kidner explains. "Depending on the current and the water level, they can drown." (As baby otters get older, their fur gets finer and will lay flat on their bodies.)
Ten-week-old Puddle was found clinging to an overflowing bank on the side of a lake in early December. Seven-week-old Tiny Toni was found running down a road near a river where the water had risen sharply. Both males, Puddle and Tiny Toni were brought to Secret World Wildlife Rescue, where they have been living in cubby holes in the kitchen. At first they were bottle-fed, drinking a special milk formulated for puppies, but have since been weaned. "They each eat about 6 [$9] worth of troutlings and minced meat each day," says Kidner.
The pair also learned how to swim – albeit separately. "Puddle [who weighs nearly 10 lbs.] is so much bigger than Tiny Toni [who weighs 4 lbs.] that when he gets excited, he can easily overwhelm Tiny Toni in the water," Kidner explains. "Normally, their mothers would teach them how to swim," but since that isn't possible, Kidner and her staff acted as surrogates, using a bathtub to teach the baby otters the vital skill. "We start with the water very low until they learn how to close their nostrils and ears, and work with them until they're swimming beautifully and happy to dive and swim underwater."
Now Puddle (pictured above, fully immersed in the bathtub) and Tiny Toni (poking a tentative tail in the water) have been moved to an outside pond where they build up muscle and learn some independence before they are released back into the wild, in about 18 months. "We keep the otters in pairs and make sure they are about the same size so they don't compete for food," Kidner says.
Secret World Wildlife Refuge even has web cams set up so that you can watch their resident otters, including another pair who were rescued earlier this year, Hope and Ozzy.
"We leave the lights on every Monday night so the public can look in on Hope and Ozzy via the web cam," says Kidner.
Want to catch a glimpse of Puddle and Tiny Toni? http://www.secretworld.org/webcams.html" "Check them out on Webcam 1."]See more heart-warming animal stories on PEOPLEPets.com:Radiation Could Help Cancer-Stricken Penguin Grow Old With His Mate Berlin Sets Up 'Rest-Stop' for Weary River Beavers