Most people have a favorite animal. For Dorothy Richards, of Dolgeville, New York, it was beavers. Richards was born in 1895, when trappers had killed so many of the furry rodents to make men’s hats that the animals were almost extinct in New York State. They were still rare after she grew up and married, so she asked the state’s Conservation Department to release a pair on her land. They did, and Dorothy became the “Jane Goodall” of beavers.
Untrained and acting purely on instinct, she began sitting by the beaver pond every night, until she had the animals eating apples out of her hand. Then she asked her husband, Al, to add a beaver “spa” to their house. Al did, ingeniously building a cathedral-ceilinged pool area that connected to the outdoors. The beavers were free to swim in and out at will. Above the pool, a wall of windows transformed the couples’ living room into a viewing gallery.
Now Dorothy could observe and study beavers year-round, which she did, greatly expanding our knowledge of the critters. And her beaver family grew. Sometimes as many as seven shared her home. As a kid, I went to see her. What a thrill! Beavers swam in her cellar, snuggled in her bed, and ate from a chair at her kitchen table.
Dorothy Richards and her beavers became the subject of my first published animal story, way back in 1994. Since then, I have interviewed hundreds of animal lovers–both experts and non-professionals. I’ve also clipped and filed countless news accounts. In the process, I’ve discovered some amazing stories and plan to share some of the best with you. Hope you enjoy them.