Raccoons have a haven at Pass Christian rehab facility

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (WLOX) - The raccoons have it good up here. From incubator to playgrounds, the Woodside Wildlife Rescue is all raccoon, all day.

Plus, there are also a couple of otters.

“I love, I love raccoons,” said Paula Woodside. “Now I’ve fallen in love with otters.”

That’s because of Stanley and Ollie, a pair of North American river otters she has been caring for recently. They have the run of the place, but the raccoons have to stay inside one of the aptly-named enclosures like the Coonunity nursery, Coondergarten and the Coonunity Center. That is where all her critters were huddling against the cold.

The 52-year-old semi-retired merchant marine has operated the raccoon sanctuary north of Pass Christian for the last two years. Her love affair with raccoons started eight years ago when shipmates gave her a baby raccoon while in dry dock in San Francisco.

“I opened it up and as I opened it there was a sound (imitates a baby raccoon). It was a baby raccoon,” she said.

She took that orphan to a rehab facility in Oakland, and she now helps Mississippi orphans.

“Our emphasis is to get the babies back to their moms, if there is a mom,” she said.

This year, Woodside has spent about 128 hours searching for raccoon mothers and has reunited 49 babies with their moms, but she does not work alone.

“Oooh, I have an incredible village,” she said.

That 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.

“I am not a vet, I am not a vet tech, I just love, I just love these animals, and I’ll do the best for them,” she said. “And we have a lot of great support from our local veterinarians.”

The facility is still growing with construction underway for a food prep area and medical facility. She has other plans for the land that will help provide mutual aid to other wildlife rehabilitation outfits in the area.

Woodside wants everyone to remember that as more and more development occurs on the Coast, you will be more likely to encounter wildlife.

“With all the habitat destruction that is going on, we’re displacing these animals. These animals are not the nuisance, we are. We’re the nuisance, we’re the ones that are taking their homes and then we get angry because they’re in my attic,” she said.

Like all wildlife, Woodside said raccoons have a role in nature and can be quite helpful.

“They take care of the snakes and the snake eggs. They go after rats and mice. They’re terrific at keeping cockroaches under control. Just imagine if we didn’t have raccoons down here with the cockroaches we have,” she said.

Woodside is also an accomplished artist who has many paintings of raccoons throughout the facility. She plans on hitting the local art festival circuit next spring with paintings by raccoons and otters as well as her own decorated gourds.