In the News
GEORGETOWN -- A lot of people claim to be animal lovers, but Skip Yeager and Cindy Hedrick have the sugar gliders, iguanas, umbrella cockatoos, newborn fawns and baby goat to prove it.
The Georgetown couple left their day jobs to launch SC-CARES, an acronym for Coastal Animal Rescue and Educational Sanctuary.
Yeager, 55, an entrepreneur, and Hedrick, 44, who spent 20 years as a clerk of court in North Carolina, always devoted their spare time to volunteering with rescue groups. Since November, providing a safe environment for homeless birds, reptiles and small mammals has become their life's work.
'The sanctuary's mission is for these animals to live out their days without being harassed or passed from home to home,' Hedrick said. 'Our second big mission is to educate people about the exotic animal trade.'
To support the sanctuary, the couple bought Sweeties, a chocolate and pralines shop. Their newest venture, The Ark, a gift shop that sells animal-themed merchandise, should open this week. Profits from both Front Street stores go to feeding the animals and providing for their care. The monthly tab for food is around $1,000, Yeager said.
The couple is also working on securing special permits, studying insurance issues and securing their official 501c3 nonprofit status, which they expect to complete in the next few weeks.
'We built a 1,800-square-foot hurricane-proof steel enclosure. We also purchased 24 acres,' Hedrick said. 'We've got animals in the wings waiting for us to build.'
Word of the new animal sanctuary is already spreading. Hedrick and Yeager were attending a family funeral in Pennsylvania, but before they could return home, they were called to North Carolina to rescue more animals in distress.
The couple already cares for almost 60 animals, including two fawns. One was found with its leg stuck in a stump. Had someone not intervened, the baby deer probably would have broken the leg trying to break free, Yeager said.
'The other deer - since he was taken from the mother before he had a chance to nurse - he didn't get the immunity, the system boosters in colostrums,' Yeager said. 'We don't know if he's immune-compromised or not.'
The latter was a case of human ignorance that may cost the fawn its chance to live in the wild. Adults stumbled upon the mother deer cleaning the fawn immediately after birth. She was spooked and ran off. But if the people hadn't taken the fawn, the mother would have returned. 'The mother was probably waiting behind the bushes for the people to leave, Yeager said. 'The [other female fawn] had a week or so to nurse, so she may be all right.'
They named her Sweetie because rescuers brought her to the store. The male fawn's name is Dennis. Both are being bottle fed by day. At night, they're kept in an enclosure to protect them from bobcats and other predators. Panthers are also rumored to be in the area.
'The trouble is, if you release them, they're going to wind up getting shot or getting hit by a car. South Carolina is a big hunting state,' Yeager said.
The shelter also houses almost three-dozen exotic birds. Some were breeding pairs; others were surrendered when the owners' circumstances changed. Parrots that may live into their 70s or 80s become extremely stressed when they're moved around.
Charlie, an affectionate umbrella cockatoo, is on his fourth home.
Yeager removes any eggs, which may not be fertile, from the birds' cages.
'We don't want more birds [and] don't want to support breeders. There are enough birds out there,' Yeager said. 'If we could find quality foster parents, we would be glad to share them. But every time you move them, it's stressful for them. They bond with the people - then you tear them away.'
Although Hedrick is a grandmother, she thinks human babies have nothing on baby deer in the cuteness department. But 20 years in the courtroom - hearing domestic violence and child support cases - took its toll on her regard for the human species.
'I got to hear all the stories and see all the nice pictures. It burns you out,' Hedrick said. 'I got to the point I hated people.'
Now, a good day at work is making sure the animals will never come to harm or have unmet needs and, best of all, teaching children to care for animals.
'I've figured out my purpose. I'm lucky that I have,' Hedrick said.
'I seem to just be drawn to the children. I love telling the kids about the animals. I love to watch them learn.'
To support SC-CARES, Coastal Animal Rescue and Educational Sanctuary, visit Sweeties or The Ark on Front Street in Georgetown. Sweeties offers chocolates and pralines; The Ark sells animal-themed gifts. All profits go to the sanctuary. For more information, to volunteer or to make a donation, call 546-7893.