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Parents of bitten girl spare 4 otters

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DAVIE, Fla. -- The lives of four otters were spared Friday when the parents of a little girl who was bitten by one of the creatures decided to go ahead with rabies shots without having the animals killed and tested first.

The little girl, 17-month-old Rachael Gold of New York City, was bitten on the finger during a visit earlier this month to Flamingo Gardens, a nature park north of Miami, when she got too close to the animals' cage. It was not clear which otter bit her.Rachael's parents could have demanded that the otters be tested for rabies -- which requires that the animals be killed -- to determine whether Rachael really needed to undergo the regimen of five rabies shots.

But amid protests from animal lovers who were outraged that Fatty, Chrissy, Blinky and Big-Um faced death, Rachael's parents decided to go ahead with the shots.

"They weren't going anywhere without a big fight," activist Maria Lopez said of the otters. She was one of about 40 protesters who assembled at the entrance to the park before word of the reprieve. Protesters carried signs that said, "Save the Otters" and "Honk" in support.

The otters are still not out of danger. Rachael has food allergies and asthma, and if she has an allergic reaction to the shots, her parents, Gene Gold and his wife, Leslie Price, could suspend the treatment and have the animals killed and tested to be sure that the shots are absolutely necessary.

Park officials said the parents never should have taken their daughter so close.

But Gold said there were no signs designating the area closed to the public, and park officials admitted there was no gate blocking access to the area. One was installed Friday.