This is the Woodside Wildlife Rescue president here, and I would like to share a little about our founder, the amazing wildlife warrior, Paula Woodside. You know her voice from the videos and may have met her on a rescue or eviction, but in general, she likes to stay out of the spotlight. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our fearless leader and to give you some history and a sense of her tireless ongoing efforts.
Paula grew up in New Zealand, one of the most biologically diverse islands in the world, which is likely why she has always been an avid lover of all animals. She has spent her career adventuring the world by land or by sea, working in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry and the US Merchant Marine.
By chance, while working on a dry-docked ship in San Francisco, Paula was introduced to a very special stow-away. A young raccoon she named Britt was transferred aboard the vessel USNS BRITTIN with his mother in a dumpster or equipment rack with no means of escape. Mother raccoon was trapped and released back into the harbor yard before poor Britt was discovered. When he was found, reuniting with mother was no longer an option so he was caught and handed to Paula for safe keeping. Without her care, orphaned Britt would have perished from starvation, succumbed to the elements, or fallen prey to feral cats. Little Britt got a second chance on solid ground four days later with a San Francisco-based rescue organization - Lindsay Wildlife - thanks to Paula.
Her experience with Britt sparked an interest in wild animal rescue when she returned home to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For four years she volunteered with local rescue groups caring for a variety of native wild species. She began to invest in the equipment and supplies necessary to care for orphaned and injured animals at her home, including the construction of several enclosures for housing, and the now famous “coonunity center.”
In 2016, Paula was faced with a devastating virus outbreak at her facility which destroyed nearly her entire raccoon population. This tragedy demonstrated a serious deficiency in identification, treatment, and prevention of communicable disease in both wild and captive raccoon populations.
During this painful challenge and many others to follow, Paula developed special relationships with a few young raccoons such as Lewis and dear Jade.These wild souls in particular, combined with the original memories of Britt, solidified her passion for raccoons.She decided to follow her heart and focus all of her efforts on starting a specialized raccoon rescue organization.Then the irresistible baby “Woody” came along, and she added the beavers to the mix.
In late 2019, Paula established Woodside Wildlife Rescue (WWR) to provide a comprehensive raccoon-specific rescue and rehabilitation operation serving the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. She has undertaken this effort with her own capital, blood, sweat and tears. A few generous and compassionate volunteers and donors have helped along the way.
During this first year of operation, when Paula isn’t feeding, watering or housekeeping for her motley crew, she is volunteering up and down the Coast to help gently evict unwanted raccoon families from people’s attics – so that kits are not separated from their mothers and senselessly killed or forced into rehab. Paula feels very strongly that mother raccoons are best at rearing their young. Early in the season she often pulls all-nighters helping to reunite babies separated from their mothers. She has also successfully introduced orphan kits to a lactating foster mother in her care – a previously unheard-of rehabilitation strategy.
One key component in Paula’s rehabilitation success is “boot camp” wilderness training where youngsters are taught basic life skills such as foraging, climbing, swimming and trap aversion. Her methods have proven so successful that local sister rehab organizations transfer their weaned kits to the “coonunity center” to finish their preparations for the wild. These juveniles join the existing teenage population to gain confidence and learn important social skills before their journey home to the wilderness. This is accomplished with the aid of another original innovation, the mobile release unit which provides temporary food, water, and shelter during their “soft” release back to nature.
If you follow Paula’s personal Facebook page, you know that it’s not just all about raccoons. For many years, her rescue menagerie has included a variety of other wild, domestic, and exotic critters too. She offers temporary care for some, and permanent sanctuary for others. When there is an animal in need, regardless of the species, she opens her doors and her heart.
Paula gives back to her human community in many ways as well. After hurricane Katrina she allowed her property to be used as a landing pad for Fort Hood helicopters bringing in food and medical supplies. She also became a hub for free water, meals, hot showers, and laundry facilities to anyone in need. Five years later, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, she also provided weeks of hands-on cleanup. More recently she has organized several produce donations to local food pantries and homeless shelters. Paula has also mentored students with aspirations of becoming veterinarians who desire experience with wildlife.
Today, Paula continues to work part-time on commercial cargo ships in local and international harbors to help fund her wildlife rehab efforts.It’s not uncommon for her to put in a twelve-hour shift on a ship, then come straight home to bottle feed her raccoon toddlers or conduct “boot camp” training with a few of her rowdy teenagers.
Please think of Paula now, who with 44 raccoons in her care, is at the brink of exhaustion in the peak of humid summer, continuing her rescues and rehabilitation despite the threat of fires, storms and the pandemic. She is truly an inspiration, and those who know her love her dearly.
Thank you for all you do, Paula, and congratulations on an extraordinarily successful first year as Woodside Wildlife Rescue!