On May 5, 1971, Scottie Dunning discovered a tiny male harbor seal pup on the shore of Cundy's Harbor, Maine. After a failed attempt at locating the pup's mother, Dunning called his brother-in-law George Swallow for help. When Swallow arrived, the two searched for the mother seal and later found her dead among the rocks.
After careful consideration, Swallow finally decided to take the seal pup home with him. At first, it refused to drink milk from a bottle, but once advice was given by a neighbor to grind up fish and offer it to the pup, he sucked it up like a hoover (vacuum cleaner), hence his name.
The Swallows kept him in their bathtub, but this proved too inconvenient within a few days. So George moved him out back to a spring-fed pond where he set up a "pup tent" enclosed by a wire fence. Hoover lived very much like a family dog and even accompanied George riding into town with his head poking out of the window.
As Hoover grew, so did his appetite, and the Swallows found themselves contracting a firm in Portland, Maine, to supply them with enough fish. The Swallows spoke to the seal pup constantly. Alice Swallow recalls in her book, Hoover the Seal and George: "If George was late in giving Hoover his breakfast [he] found his way up to the back steps … George would yell, 'Hello, there'. George and Hoover were great friends. Sometimes Hoover would hide … and would not appear until George yelled, 'Get out of there and come over here!' Then Hoover would come out of hiding and rush over to George and greet him with a wet, fishy kiss." It was during this time that Hoover began to mimic George's thick, gruff accent and catchphrases.