New Andre the Seal documentary on PBS; Camden Opera House offers free screening, too

Goodridge sisters reminisce about growing up with Andre the Seal

The Seal Who Came Home
Wed, 07/30/2014 - 4:00pm

    ROCKPORT—The Goodridge sisters are the only four sisters in the U.S. to know what it was like to be raised in the same household as a harbor seal. Their father, Harry Goodridge, who lived with his family in Rockport, was well known for his long-time association and care of Andre the Seal. He — and Andre — are Maine celebrities who continue to fascinate people around the world even 28 years after Andre’s death. With a new 50-minute PBS documentary on Andre the Seal set to air Aug. 6. Susan Goodridge Crane, Toni Goodridge, Carol Goodridge, and Paula Goodridge Armentrout discussed their memories of the seal, which they came to love.

    What was it like when your father first brought home Andre as a pup?

    Susan: Well, he’d raised two other seals before Andre, so it wasn’t totally new. And I was at college, so I actually met him two weeks later. By then, we’d figured out how to feed him with his apparatus.

    Carol: I actually remember the first one, Marky. Because it was such a new thing to bring home a seal, I have stronger memories of the first one. I don’t think I was that impressed because of that.

    After he was weaned, did he become more socialized to your family?

    Toni: He would allow you to touch him as long as you had a fish in your hand.

    Susan: He let my dad touch him; he seemed fine with that. With us, he’d just move away from your hand, just hump away.

    Paula: In the water, he’d let the divers hug him. And he’d steal their flippers.


    What was it like to have this seal in your house?

    Susan: Our mother’s deal with our father was that if he was going to bring any animal into the house, he had to clean up after it.

    Carol: And, Andre was not housebroken. We have pictures of Harry in a gas mask mopping up the floor. I remember Harry would shake the mop at Andre after an accident and Andre would hate it—he’d claw at the mop. He associated the mop with that and stopped doing it.

    Toni: Oh, he was smart. Harry would whip that mop around and Andre would just snort at it.


    Were you as fascinated as other people that this wild seal could just come and go into your house like a dog?

    Susan: It wasn’t actually like that. He wouldn’t come to the house on his own. He’d have to be brought up and lifted in.

    Paula: He could go from the house to the harbor, but not the other way around. He just actually preferred to be in the harbor.

    Toni: But, he’d always go into his carrying crate with no problem.


    Because of Harry and Andre, your family gained a kind of recognition that has never gone away. What was that like growing up?

    Paula: I jsut remember walking through the hallways of Camden High School and people knew me because of my father. Sometimes they’d go ‘arr arr arr,’ you know, imitating seal noises. They’d make that noise even though that’s not how harbor seals actually sound. And that was how it was in school.

    Toni: It was different things. I don’t know what it was like for my sisters but every time I’d get introduced to people they’d say, ‘This is Toni; you’ve heard of Andre, well, this is his sister.’


    Did you have other household pets growing up with Andre?

    Toni: We always had dogs, cats, chickens horses, squirrels, robins, goats.

    Susan: They always took Andre in stride, like he was another dog in the house.

    Carol: There’s old footage that will be in the documentary of Harry and our old beagle Toot and Dad was trying to entice Andre with a fish when Toot just jumped up and took it. Andre went after him. I think there’s also a shot of Andre coming out of Toot’s dog house.


    What were your impressions of the years Harry went down to Rockport Harbor with Andre to do tricks for the crowds?

    Susan: He did that for most of Andre’s whole life, for about 25 years. For  six months each year from April to October, Harry would go down there about 7 p.m. and get the show going. Later on, he moved back to about 4:30 p.m.

    Carol: Harry would have some of the kids pass around the fish bucket for tips and that would keep Andre in fish for the summer. And it also helped pay for his flights to the Boston Aquarium later on. I think there were some private donations that also helped with that.


    What can people look forward to in this upcoming PBS documentary My Wild Affair on August 6 that hasn’t already been told in the book or in other numerous articles?

    Toni: There’s a segment from Real People in the 1970s in which Harry is is doing his daily show with Andre and they showed some of the tricks he did.

    Carol: I was on the lawn of our house once when their film crew came to Maine. They were feeding Andre and they filmed him going into the house, then into the kitchen. The guy on the film crew was actually feeding him.They captured on film how he could hump down the steps, down the road down and splash into the water.

    Susan: The other thing that’s not in the book that will be in the documentary is that Andre was in Toni’s wedding.

    Toni: The whole plan was that he would be the ring bearer. But, he had to be trained to go get this pouch that contained the rings underwater and then bring them up on land in his mouth up to where we were standing.

    Paula: I was so nervous that he was not going to be able to do it and the rings would be lost. I don’t think I really had faith in him. [Laughs.] Harry just said ‘Andre, go get the rings.’ And so he went off the float and disappeared and he came back with them. It was perfect.

    Susan: Our grandmother said ‘I thought Andre was going to be in the wedding.’ He was up there and back in the water so fast, she didn’t even see him.

    Susan: You’ll also see footage in the documentary of him unveiling the statue of himself in the park. He was in the water and there was a line attached to the to the tarp that covered the statue. Harry taught him how to pull that line so that the tarp came off at the right time.


    After some years at your house, why was Andre was sent to winter at the New England Aquarium and then the Mystic Aquarium?

    Paula: He started to get in trouble in the harbor, not just jumping in people’s boats, but one time, capsizing a boat. He jumped into someone’s canoe and I think that was the last straw. They didn’t capsize, but they could have easily done so. And you had to consider things like that, if it was getting dangerous.

    Susan: He also started biting men, and I think he was always a little competitive with men, perhaps because it was mating season and shedding season. That really put him off his good humor.

    Paula: During those times, he was moody.


    Why did your dad chose to have him always swim back each spring, not get transported back? And were you worried?

    Paula: We worried a lot about him. We worried about our ‘brother.’

    Susan: Yes, we all were. All the locals were always on pins and needles asking when he’d be back, if he’d be back. It was always a rite of spring when he showed.

    Paula: But, it was just easier on him than crating him up and putting him on a plane or driving.

    Susan: We would have never known if he didn’t make it back one year what happened to him, but he always came back. And it was always Dad’s wish that if he ever just wanted to go free, he could.

    Toni: And, he never had to go into his pen if he didn’t want to.


    Having had Andre part of your lives for 25 years, it must have been so hard on you when he died. What happened?

    Paula: He was nearly blind and had gotten into a fight in the harbor with another younger male seal.  Somebody saw the fight happen. He was driven out of Rockport by the other seal. And he just disappeared.

    Carol: We did see him again after that though. Down in Rockland, in Lermond’s Cove.

    Paula: He was in the seaweed just floating. It was 1986.

    Susan: Harry went down to identify him and knew right away it was him because of a long scar he’d had on his neck from a staph infection.

    Paula: He’d lost his territory and he was blind. He was in old age about then and just passed on. No marks or signs of damage on him.

    Carol: I think he just gave up.


    How did the community react once they knew Andre was gone?

    Toni: It was just sad. He was a family member.

    Susan: It was in all the local papers and even an obituary in the New York Times.

    Carol: I don’t know of anyone else who had a baby, orphaned seal who hung around for 25 years.


    With this new documentary coming out, do you ever get tired of talking about Andre?

    Carol: I never get tired of talking about Andre, but none of us are very comfortable being in the spotlight.

    Susan: Our father was really comfortable in the spotlight. But no, I never get tired of talking about Andre either.


    Since Andre, have other people attempted to capture a baby seal and raise it?

    Toni: Yes, we’ve heard of it, but it’s against the law to raise a baby seal, now. The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all seals now from being captured. The feds had a lot of back and forth with our dad about it with Andre, but I think he wore them out.

    Paula: They eventually saw that Andre could go free whenever he wanted. And Andre was grandfathered into that system, caught before the law changed.

    Susan: Also Dad had Congressional support to keep Andre. They pulled some strings so he could keep him.

    Susan: Even if you see an orphaned seal on the shoreline, I know your first instinct is to take care of it, but the best thing to do is call a wildlife expert. [Note: Wildlife Assistance Hotline at (207) 361-1400.]


    A Seal Called Andre, originally co-written by Harry Goodridge and Lew Dietz and published by Warner Books in 1976 is going to be republished by Downeast Books with more pages chronicling the last 10 years of Andre’s life.

    The Camden Opera House will offer a free community screening of the new Andre the Seal Documentary, The Seal Who Came Home. The 50-minute film is the last episode in a four-part series filmed by PBS, entitled, My Wild Affair. Opera House main doors will open at 7 p.m.; screening will begin promptly at 8 p.m. Seating will be available on a first -come basis. FMI see Camden Opera House website,