MARION, Miss. (WTOK) - My latest On the Job assignment: making a difference in the lives of wild animals.
"We take in sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, and our goal is to successfully rehabilitate them and get them back into the wild and give them a second chance at life," Central Wildlife Rehabilitation Center executive director Hayden Burns says.
The nonprofit center in Marion takes in dozens of animals at a time, working to bring each one back to perfect health.
"Everyday, it starts very early," Burns explains. "The first thing we do is feed all the babies."
Feeding tiny baby animals is exactly as cute as it sounds. The crew sets me up with gloves and a bottle, and I spend about 15 minutes bottle-feeding a raccoon kit. Burns says raising raccoons is the main reason she took on this job in 2015.
"I always said there's nothing I would love more than a raccoon in general until I got a baby beaver for the first time, and I fell in love," she explains.
The baby beaver imprinted on Burns, and just like a human baby, she cries and whimpers until she gets the attention and formula she needs from mom.
"They can throw temper tantrums just like a little 2-year-old," Burns says while feeding the fussy beaver. "If they don't get their way, they are not happy about it."
Each animal has its own personality, and each comes with its own risk. Sometimes the risk is a smell.
"Put your tails down!" Burns demands while feeding the baby skunks. She tells me she's been sprayed before and knows it could happen anytime one of those cute, fluffy tails goes up.
Teeth are another concern.
"I've been bitten by probably everything you can be bitten by. I've recently learned that an otter bite is probably the worst out of all the animals," Burns explains. "They bite and don't let go because they're used to catching fish. So when they grab ahold of something, they can't let it go or they would lose their meal every time."
A lot of the animals like to play. Our crew even got to spend some time playing with rowdy coyote pups in the backyard. But it's not all fun and games. Every one of these animals needs help to survive.
One woman brought in an opossum on the brink of death while we were at the center.
"The animals we get in are always compromised in some way. Either they've lost their mother, so they've been on their own for a day, two days or longer, so they're extremely dehydrated. Flies will start to lay eggs on them, so we have a problem with maggots," Burns says, "or we get them in with puncture wounds, or they've been hit by a car. We never get in healthy animals because that's the point of what we do."
It's a tough process, but the director says the best part is finally setting the animals free into their natural habitat.
"If you get to see it from the beginning to the end, it makes it all worth it," Burns says.
The center is in need of more volunteers. If you're interested in giving back, you can check out the Central Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. Facebook page for more information.