Exotic Animal Rescue
Education and rescue efforts at Safe Harbor Farm
By KEVIN LEWIS
The Sandhills are continuously evolving as a migration area, attracting a variety of people from diverse and sophisticated backgrounds. Paul and MaryEllen Schoeman are a notable example of how far reaching the Sandhills are in real estate appeal.
The Schoemans sold their home in Altadena, California in 2021 and bought a former 35 acre horse boarding business in Seagrove, North Carolina and transformed it into Safe Harbor Farm and Rescue. "It has been a dream of mine to create an animal rescue and educational center," says MaryEllen (she elisions the two names). "My day job is oversight of animal safety on filming locations for the Animal Protection Agency." She graduated with a degree in zoology from Miami University and did her graduate school research at the San Diego Zoo.. Having experience on film sets plus a knowledge of animal habits and physical needs enabled her to secure her job with A.P. A., and Seagrove's location between two airports allows her to travel to film sets all over the world.
The Schoemans are a notable couple in the film industry. Paul grew up in Hollywood as the son of the film editor Hendrick Schoeman and as a child actor. His father emigrated from South Africa, to Canada, where Paul was born. After several moves around the United States, the family settled in Los Angeles where Paul began his film career. He graduated from Hollywood Professional High School with some now illustrious alumni. He graduated from California State Los Angeles.
After working for the legendary Aaron Spelling, producer of Dynasty, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, he became Director of Compliance for The Screen Actors Guild, which later merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (SAG/AFTRA). During the pandemic, Paul changed jobs to become Senior Director, Labor Relations for WrapBook, an innovative payroll and labor issues company representing film studios. The new job enabled him up to work from anywhere in the country which also gave MaryEllen the opportunity to establish her animal refuge.
The couple researched communities and states that would welcome an animal refuge and selected Randolph County as their new home.. Safe Harbor is close to the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro but that was not a factor in buying the estate. Safe Harbor Farm and Rescue is breathtaking when one leaves Route 705. Approaching it on its hill, one thinks of South Fork or Manderley. It is truly a romantic image when you drive down the long winding trail.
MaryEllen left her native Maine after high school to attend college in Los Angeles. She worked for a museum, where she met Paul, and later transitioned from the nonprofit world and became a script reader for movie studios. She also later worked for Spelling and Paramount Pictures.
Paul modestly minimizes his role in Safe Harbor. He is her support and contributes hours to cleaning out stables, digging mud from horse hooves, feeding animals and taking charge when MaryEllen is away on her "day job." They have help from an aspiring zookeeper, and hope one day to have a formal volunteer program. The property is large enough to fulfill another visionary project, a place where veterinary students can live and study while they are gaining their degree.
Recently, Safe Harbor rescued three emaciated miniature horses that were sold by a defunct petting zoo in the state to a dealer in meat for Mexico. The property had previously been a boarding facility for horses so it was ideal for this purpose.
A 10 year old baby Sulcata tortoise who will live to a hundred years and grow to 200 poundsalso walks around in the stable.
Other exotic residents of Safe Harbor are emus, miniature Highland Cows, and Valais Blacknose sheep. MaryEllen has a special love for racoons and possums and answers questions from the public about their role in nature or if they are trapped in a house. She was known as the" raccoon lady" in Los Angeles because she was called in to rescue them from boats and houses and advocates for them.
The Schoemans welcome support from the public and are planning their first farm open house later this year.