Angels for wildlife

Top, from left: Marley Poyo, CWC President Aaron Frank, Mira Sorvino and Chris Backus at the California Wildlife Center's 2003 Wild Hearts Gala on Nov. 13 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Right: Cortney Litwin, Wild Hearts Angel awardee and writer for The Malibu Times, and Richard Riordan, former mayor and California's newly appointed education secretary, at the 3rd Annual Wild Hearts Gala to benefit the California Wildlife Center. Cortney Litwin / TMT

Actors, including Academy Award-winner Mia Sorvino and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr., and others for wild animals were roaming the halls of the Beverly Hills hotel last Thursday night for the 3rd Annual Wild Hearts Gala to benefit the California Wildlife Center.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan was the evening’s guest of honor receiving the 2003 Free Spirit Award.

“I’m here representing the people who worked in my administration that did a great job on the environment and protecting the wild life,” Riordan said.

Riordan, California’s newly appointed education secretary, said leadership is the key to the CWC’s success.

“It’s amazing what strong leadership will do. At the California Wildlife Center, they have great leaders with tremendous visions who have done an incredible job in a short period of time.”

Asked about his animals at home, Riordan laughed, “Well, I have some really wild Yorkshire terriers, they control my life. And my daughter, Kathleen, is an animal activist. She’s on the Animal Regulation Commission for the city and she’s on just about every environmental group committee, too. She loves animals – probably more than I do.”

During the awards ceremony, Riordan invited his daughter to join him on stage.

“He educates through example,” said the younger Riordan.

“I watched Bambi with him in third grade. And we all know what happened to Bambi’s Mom in the forest – I was devastated, just devastated. Sobbing, I looked up to my father to find some sort of strength through this and there were tears pouring down his face! But you know what – that was the strength I needed.”

California Wildlife Center (CWC) is a nonprofit organization located in Calabasas providing specialized care for sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains and the marine life of the Malibu coastline. The CWC opened its doors five years ago.

“On a night like this I can see how far we’ve come,” said Aaron Frank, co-founder of CWC. “We got started in 1998 with just a few dedicated volunteers and people who had a vision knowing there was a need for someplace to help the wild animals.

“I started out as a lawyer back in Atlanta and there was that flash of lightening and I knew I wanted to get out from behind the desk and try to make a difference in this world.”

The center is located on a patch of land in Calabasas owned by the California State Parks. The CWC has saved more than 5.000 wild animals in the last five years.

“The animals are found everywhere in the city. You wouldn’t imagine the places – in the last five years I’ve received calls on getting deer in the middle of town, to sea lions on PCH, to birds in the middle of Hollywood studios – anywhere you can imagine because wildlife is everywhere.”

Wild Hearts Angels awards were handed out to Carolyn Gracie, KOST 103.5 radio personality; Hayden Sohm, California State Parks sector superintendent; Nick Steers, California County Lifeguard Captain; Joan Tyler, CWC volunteer and Cortney Litwin, writer for The Malibu Times.

Sohm said it’s a win-win situation with the CWC and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“The CWC is located at a state park and we recognized this as an opportunity to help support our mission because we’re constantly running into wildlife that’s injured, and a lot of time there were no resources out there available to deal with those sorts of injuries.”

One of the evening’s presenters, Mira Sorvino, spoke about her passion for helping animals.

“I am a big animal lover and I actually went on a CWC coyote release a couple of weeks ago where they released four young coyotes that they had been nursing back to health. It was very exciting. We watched them all scamper off into their new lives and it was very moving. It’s a wonderful organization.”

The sentiment was strongly seconded by Begley, who was there to introduce the Wild Hearts Angel Awards.

“I’m here to honor my good friend Dick Riordan and to help out the CWC,” Begley said.

Begley added that in Southern California the neighborhoods keep growing like “stucco vines up wild canyons and mountain sides,” adding to the increase of animal injuries.

“We keep developing and developing and developing – people need a place to live, I understand – but I’d wish we’d revitalize our urban core and leave some of this precious open space for the species that call that land home. As we continue to encroach on their space they have less and less room to move around.”

The evening’s silent auction was a study in eclectic faire – Arnold Schwarzenegger (the movie star, not the California governor) memorabilia, lunch with Sen. Dianne Feinstein along with a tour of the capital, Laker front row tickets and a trip to Kilkarney, Ireland.

But it’s all for a worthy cause, says Executive Director Beth Caskie.

“We need a rapid infusion of $500,000 – that’s what we really need. Our biggest supporters are the people in Malibu – grassroots membership,” Caskie said.

“When they bring in an animal they drop money in the rescue box and that is the core of our donations. We do solicit memberships and we have open houses, but we need to do a lot more so everyone knows we’re here because right now we have a leaky roof and we need our garage space turned into a convalescent area so we can move our newly donated fluoroscopy machine out from one of our volunteer’s garage and into our hospital.”

The CWC has four full-time staff members including a veterinarian, but volunteers are the backbone of the CWC.

Joan Tyler, CWC volunteer of the year, said it was easy getting started at the CWC.

“I’m a retired high school teacher and saw an ad for the CWC. Well, how more difficult could it be taking care of wildlife than teaching high school kids,” Tyler laughed.

Gretchen Wyler, actress and founder of the Ark Trust (Genesis Awards), said it all starts with awareness.

“We’re such an arrogant species!” Wyler said. “I was a very busy Broadway actress in the ’50s and ’60s. I ate a steak every night and owned furs because I thought they grew on trees and suddenly I became aware of my thoughtlessness. And now we have the CWC and the wonderful things they do. I promise you 30 years ago they wouldn’t have been here.”

For more information about volunteering or donating, call 818.222.2658 or or visit the Web site