Paula Woodside’s mission of mercy started more than 10 years ago with a little hijacker raccoon named Britt.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” Woodside said, laughing. “But I guess it has.”
The former United States Merchant Marine began a love affair with the ring-tailed, masked critters in 2012 when shipmates gave her a stowaway baby raccoon discovered in an onboard dumpster while dry-docked in San Francisco. He turned out to be a little escapologist and ran amuck on the ship, but they were eventually able to catch him.
“I fell in love with him,” Woodside said. “I absolutely fell in love that weekend and I had him for a few days until I was able to find a wildlife facility in Oakland.”
Woodside met her husband while serving and the couple moved to Pass Christian. When they settled in the Magnolia State, Woodside just knew creating a wildlife sanctuary for orphaned raccoons was her calling, so she started the nonprofit facility Woodside Wildlife Rescue in 2019.
“Raccoons are very smart, very agile, and tactile,” she said. “They do a lot for the environment. They keep snake populations under control, and they’ll go after full adult snakes and they also go after snake eggs, rats and mice, and cockroaches.”
Although the haven focuses mainly on raccoons, there are also numerous other animals being rehabilitated including skunks and beavers. She added the organization does not trap and relocate nuisance critters and it’s not an animal drop-off center.
“We are not trappers,” she said. “Our emphasis is to get the babies back to mom if there is a mom, so we try and reunite them within five days after getting the call. If there is an opportunity to get them back to mom that’s what we do. The mama needs to raise these babies because no matter how good we think we are we don’t come close to mama’s antibodies and love.”
When the facility rescues raccoons that are injured or sick, they stay at one of the rehab enclosures until the fall when they can be released.
“And we supplement feed them through their first winter so that they don’t put pressure on the colonies that are already established in the areas,” she said, adding the current raccoon population is suffering because of unvaccinated dogs and cats that can spread diseases and infections to young raccoons.
“We’ve lost thousands of raccoons and we’re out of balance right now,” she said adding the rescues take countless hours, but she does not work alone.
“I have the best, most incredible village,” she said.
And that village includes 45 people who have taken a four-hour course to become a member of the rehab team, as well as the cooperation of other wildlife rehab outfits in the area and others.
“We’re all in it for the animals,” she said. “I am not a vet. I am not a vet tech. I just love these animals, and we always do the best for them. And we have a lot of great support from our local veterinarians.”
The facility is still growing with construction now underway for a birds of prey enclosure.