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Who's Who: Benjamin Otten, New Owner of All Creatures

Every weekday we feature in interview with someone who lives or works in El Cerrito.

Name: Benjamin Otten

Age: 39

Occupation: Veterinarian, owner of

You recently started All Creatures here in El Cerrito? I purchased the practice in September from Dr. Foor, who had had the practice for about 15 or 16 years. He had purchased it previously from Dr. Coopwell, who had it since the mid-'60s.

This is the first time that we’ve been able to bring something as exciting as exotic animal medicine to the near East Bay, to this portion of the East Bay, because that’s part of my specialty training ... in avian medicine, birds and also reptiles.

I saw your George Clooney the turtle autograph on the wall in the waiting room. Yea, that’s one of our clients. That turtle has been on the pages of some reptile magazines and stuff, so they jokingly say that he’s George Clooney the show turtle.

I was reading your biography on your website, and it said you have some background in music too. At Heidelberg College they don’t have minors and there you have to double major, so I majored in music performance and biochemistry.

Are those some of your interests outside of being a veterinarian? Honestly, I haven’t touched my horn since around when I started vet school. It’s something I am interested in but don’t end up a lot with.

How did you end up becoming a veterinarian, especially one with a specialty? It’s been a lifelong dream. I remember being extremely young and there were baby birds that fell out of a nest. … My parents took me to the local college, and the field biology professor there taught me how to raise them up. We fledged them out and released them, and I decided that was what I wanted to be, an exotic wildlife veterinarian. As my dreams matured in high school, I decided I wanted to be a general practice veterinarian—have my day practice and also be able to treat birds and reptiles. We eventually hope to be able to offer our services to wildlife creatures as well as pet creatures.

Is this a building where the back end is located in Richmond and the front is in El Cerrito? Exactly. The street is El Cerrito and the rest of the building is Richmond.

Do you have to call the Richmond Fire Department if anything happens? We do. Interestingly enough, when we bought the building there was a little-known thing about water prevention—what’s called a backflow preventer—that EBMUD enforces. It prevents water from going back into the system if there’s a shut off somewhere. All businesses in the state of California are supposed to have them, and this building never had one installed, because it’s been around since before the law was passed. They don’t have enough inspectors to go around and cite people to get it done. They just wait until the name changes on the water bill, and then they cite them.

Here I was a new owner, and there was a bill for $6,000 to get this thing repaired. And I had 30 days to do it. We did that and got that done. We called the City of Richmond, because that’s who we pay our taxes to, and they said no, you’re not here, the front of your building is in El Cerrito. You have to get your permit through El Cerrito. So some of the permits have to come through El Cerrito and some have to come through Richmond.

Do you have an interesting pet story to share? A good luck story. … The past two Saturdays it had been really rainy. There was one where it was pouring rain—the big storm. There was a dog that was running up and down San Pablo Avenue drenched to the bone. Some people brought the dog in. I went on craigslist that night and there was a missing dog, from Van Fleet and Carlson. … They showed up Monday morning and they were so happy. She was a 14-year-old dog who had glaucoma and had escaped when they opened the front door.  

Heidi Rand March 12, 2011 at 01:57 AM
Dr. Otten is absolutely wonderful! We're extremely lucky to have him in El Cerrito -- thanks Kyrsten, for letting us know that he's here! Anyone looking for a great vet, you'll be in good hands.
Kyrsten Bean March 12, 2011 at 05:09 AM
We have so many great people here in El Cerrito!
John Stashik March 12, 2011 at 07:06 AM
We just ran a story about Dr. Otten in the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce Byline. Welcome to El Cerrito! The final paragraph of the Patch interview made my day. Thanks, Doc.
Charles Burress (Editor) March 12, 2011 at 08:30 AM
John, I'm glad you commented on the final paragraph. I too was moved by the story behind those few words.

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