In the News
GEORGETOWN -- Wildlife and exotic animals have two new champions in Georgetown County. Skip Yeager and Cindy Hedrick, partners and co-owners of Sweeties on Front Street, are opening the doors to a new facility for another kind of sweeties: the furred, finned and feathery kind. (Oh, and the scaly kinds are welcome, too.)
Skip and Cindy purchased Sweeties in July 2006 and began commuting from their home in North Carolina to run the candy shop and prepare for their “other life.” That other life comes in the form of SC-C.A.R.E.S (South Carolina Coastal Animal Rescue and Educational Sanctuary), which is in the process of opening.
SC-C.A.R.E.S is a wildlife and exotic animal sanctuary as well as a rehabilitation and educational center. Their primary goal will be to provide a safe home for all indigenous and exotic wildlife. Skip and Cindy also plan to house and rehabilitate birds of prey and are in the process of submitting their federal application. All birds of prey (also called raptors) are protected under federal law. It is against the law to kill or harm them or to own them as pets. Raptors include birds such as owls, hawks, eagles and even buzzards and vultures.
However, many other animals, including parrots, ferrets, snakes and turtles, can be bought as pets — sometimes with disastrous or unintended consequences, Cindy said. All pets require commitment in the way of finances, time and emotion. A pet needs to be fed, taken care of, seen by a veterinarian for normal check-ups or illnesses, exercised, loved and given plenty of attention.
The lure of owning an animal that is somehow different is strong, and many people purchase exotic pets only to get home and realize that they cannot care for them adequately, according to Cindy. Some animals are also the victims of altered domestic situations, including divorce or a move to a place that doesn’t allow pets.
That’s where SC-C.A.R.E.S will come in.
Hobby to business
Cindy and Skip have plenty of experience working in wildlife and exotic animal rehabilitation and care. They both worked with the same kind of facility in North Carolina caring for animals that were injured, orphaned or abandoned, but there it was more of a hobby — they both had other full-time jobs.
Skip says they finally decided to make animal care their main business, no small undertaking.
“I sold two other businesses that I had, as well as a beach house and a lake house. We liquidated our assets and put everything into moving here and setting up,” he says with a wry smile.
Skip and Cindy met many years ago when both were living and working in North Carolina. They’ve been together about 11 years and have been doing wildlife rehabilitation for the past five to six years.
There is no national standard or certification to become a wildlife rehabilitator (or “rehabber”), Skip says. Most states have their own rules and guidelines and it can be spotty. He and Cindy took several classes in wildlife rehabilitation, but practical experience is the best teacher, he said.
Cindy says it is tough when you first learn to rehabilitate wild animals, especially ones that are fragile, such as newborns. They have to be fed often, require gentle handling, certain temperatures and have tiny mouths or beaks. Cindy said you aren’t always able to save every animal — sometimes they just don’t make it for one reason or another, no matter how hard you try.
Both Cindy and Skip commented on how they came to decide on Georgetown County for their new business. “We searched for about five years before finding the right property,” Cindy said. Skip added that they looked without success in Horry County for a long time.
“You have to find a place that’s outside of town, but not too far away, and you have to have a place where the neighbors aren’t too close, because no one likes to be awakened at odd hours by the screeching of birds.”
They finally decided on Georgetown because they figured it is halfway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, two big tourist cities, and they hope to pull in some of those tourists.
“Many wildlife sanctuaries suffer from lack of financial resources,” says Skip. He and Cindy plan to run their sanctuary in a business-like manner and eventually will offer educational tours. There won’t be a fee, but they trust that visitors will ultimately be supportive and donate generously. The sanctuary is a non-profit public charity.
SC-C.A.R.E.S. will also be available to give educational presentations to school groups or civic organizations. Over time, they plan to build a walkway through the sanctuary and give tours.
Of course, they still own and run Sweeties, and Cindy says that coming this spring, they will be opening a nature-based gift store, The Ark, on Front Street. Profit from both of these businesses will go towards running the sanctuary.
For those interested, there are several other ways to help support the sanctuary. The couple will have an adopt-an-animal program whereby anyone can “adopt” a sanctuary animal. Adoptive parents will receive a certificate of adoption, a fact sheet and photo of their animal and recognition on the sanctuary’s future Web site.
People can also become members of the sanctuary which will include daytime admission, and discounts at The Ark gift shop.
SC-C.A.R.E.S. is also looking for personal and corporate sponsorships and founders. Sponsors can receive recognition in various ways, including mention on the sanctuary’s upcoming Web site and signage at exhibits, shelter buildings, gardens, benches, or plaques.
A home for many
Alex, Charlie, Snuggles and Montie may not exactly be helping with the work, but they are a big part of SC-C.A.R.E.S. These are all animals who either came with Cindy and Skip from the North Carolina sanctuary, or have been given to them since they opened here.
All of the birds, small mammals and reptiles recently moved into a brand new home — the hut — which is where they will be permanently housed. In the hut, there is room for more animals, as well as a break room for future volunteers, office space, a bathroom and a kitchen for preparing all the food and clean-up.
Montie is a ball python that has been with the sanctuary for about two years. He has some scarring in his head, indicative of an old injury. They speculate that he was released, either intentionally or accidentally, and possibly someone thought he was a poisonous snake and tried to kill him.
Donna Yarborough, a sanctuary volunteer, has taken a special liking to Montie, and takes him out of his aquarium frequently. Montie drapes across her shoulders or wraps around her waist and seems content to stay there while Donna busies herself with other tasks.
Charlie and Snuggles are umbrella cockatoos who came down from the wildlife center in North Carolina. They both like to screech and make a lot of noise when a visitor enters the hut, but once they get to know you, are amenable to stepping onto your hand or arm. Like many types of parrots and other exotic birds, they know and can imitate several words or phrases. Birds cannot actually talk as humans do because they lack vocal chords, but they can imitate amazingly well some of the sounds that humans make.
Alex is a blue and gold macaw who was the victim of a divorce. Alex was owned by a couple, and much preferred the husband and bonded with him very well. After the divorce, Alex was left with the wife, who did not have a lot of time for him and with whom he did not feel as comfortable. The wife asked the wildlife sanctuary to take care of Alex.
One of the most paradoxical inhabitants of the hut is Garfield, a good old domestic cat, colored orange of course, like the Garfield of comic strip fame. Although Cindy and Skip will not be taking in domestic animals such as dogs and cats at the sanctuary, they do have Garfield, as well as several dogs whom they rescued and are their personal pets.
Garfield seems oblivious of all the birds’ screeching and posturing and is content to reign as the supreme cat in he birdhouse. He greets everyone who walks in and parades around, taking stock of his domain.
Cindy points to another roomy cage containing several sugar gliders. Sugar gliders are small marsupials (meaning they have pouches for their young) that are native to eastern and northern mainland Australia, New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago, and introduced to Tasmania.
These sugar gliders came to the sanctuary from a breeding mill in California where they were overpopulated and not well cared for. One of the little critters is missing a leg.
Going into the next room we meet Victoria, a Sulcata tortoise, native to north central Africa. Victoria weighs between 25 to 30 pounds, but Cindy says like many tortoises, Victoria will be long lived — probably reaching well over 100 years of age, and perhaps reaching up to 150 pounds when full-grown. Victoria was donated to the North Carolina wildlife sanctuary about three years ago, and made the move to Georgetown with Cindy and Skip.
Cindy says that part of the difficulty in caring for animals is the lack of background information when she takes in an animal. They often don’t know anything about the animals’ past care or how old it is or any of the circumstances surrounding it. Sometimes the animals arrive as second- or third-hand rescues, with information lost along the way.
This is frustrating, because as a licensed South Carolina wildlife rehabilitation center — through the S.C. Department of Natural Resources — they must keep very detailed records on every animal.
Each animal has its own medical record. Any animal care, from feeding to administering medication, must be noted on the record.
These are just a few of the approximately 40 current residents of the sanctuary, but Cindy is sure they will take in many more. She and Skip want to provide a “no-kill/no-breed” haven for abused, neglected or unwanted exotic animals in which they can live out their days in a healthy environment with a good quality of life. They will take in native wildlife and exotic animals, and any native wildlife that can be successfully rehabilitated will be released.
Wildlife that cannot be released will become ambassadors for their species by participating in the sanctuary’s educational programs. These programs will teach about the interdependency between animals, humans, and the environment, accentuating the impact of human activities on the creatures with which we share the world.
Why save the animals?
Some people may understand the need to rescue and rehabilitate an unusual animal such as a raptor or parrot or iguana, but they may wonder why it’s important to save squirrels or opossums.
When asked why they do what they do and why they think it is important, Skip replied, “All animals serve a purpose in the ecosystem. For example, opossums and vultures, two species that are usually less than glamorous, are both scavengers — they clean up other animal carcasses,” he said. Cindy adds that by caring for any wildlife, they gain valuable experience about how to care for different species.
Cindy says she is committed to this work because, “There are so many animals that need care or help. I want to be some small part of it. I wan to give animals a safe haven and a good quality of life.”
She adds that just as important as taking care of the animals, is “educating people and giving them the up-close and personal experience with animals. “When people connect with animals it gives them a better sense of responsibility and compassion to animals and the environment. So maybe they will think twice about how their actions affect those creatures and the world they live in.”
One of the animals that Skip has connected with is Kinshasa, an African gray parrot, reputed to be one of the most intelligent species of birds. Kinshasa is named after the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. African grays are native to the Congo.
Kinshasa is often out of his cage and rides around on Skip’s shoulder. Skip and Cindy are careful to point out that as beautiful and interesting as the different parrots are, they all possess quite formidable beaks as well. These beaks could easily cause severe damage to a person’s face, so no one should ever let a bird get close to their face unless they are extremely familiar with the animal and the animal is comfortable with them.
Cindy said the same could be said about most of the pets they have taken in — people need to realize when buying exotics that besides being cute and interesting, they have special needs, dietary and habitat and climate, and that many of them can harm humans inadvertently if care is not taken in handling them.
Cindy and Skip are conscientious about the care of their animals — often consulting and getting visits from veterinarians and other animal professionals such as bird behaviorists and reptile specialists.
SC-C.A.R.E.S. is located off Choppee Road a few miles outside Georgetown. To visit the sanctuary, call Cindy Hedrick or Skip Yeager to schedule an appointment at (843) 546-7893. You can also usually find them at Sweeties in the afternoons or you can e-mail them at email@example.com.
So how many animals will they eventually house? Cindy isn’t exactly sure but she says they will take animals up to their capacity. How many animals they will be able to support and care for will be a measure of how much community and financial support they receive.
Cindy and Skip say they have had a lot of support from friends and businesses already contributing to helping them get started and they are looking forward to working with both the City of Georgetown and Georgetown County in their quest to build a world-class nature and environmental education center.