Of Cars and Cats

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 50 classic car owners showed off their candy-colored, gleaming-rimmed best at a Sunday fund-raiser for the Wildlife Waystation.

To go with all the Jaguars and Mustangs at the car show, animal handlers brought a tiger and a golden eagle from the Waystation, an animal refuge north of Sunland in Angeles National Forest.

"We are going to have to expand," Martine Colette, founder of the Waystation, said of her 160-acre refuge. "We have more than 1,100 animals from around the world, and there are so many more animals that need sanctuary."

In Little Tujunga Canyon, the Waystation's staff of 15 cares for European bears, monkeys, Chinese tigers and a host of other beasts that are not prepared for the wild. Some of them, Colette said, were surrendered by people who lost control of their house pets. Others were found injured or sick. Still others were given up because they were too old to perform in circuses and animal shows.

The sanctuary allows Colette to continue the work she started more than 35 years ago as the daughter of a Belgian diplomat based in Nairobi. She became known to locals, she said, as the girl who could nurse injured animals to health. The reputation followed her when she moved to Los Angeles and started work as a movie costume designer.

"I was going to the clubs where all the beautiful people were," Colette said, sitting at arm's length from a pacing 550-pound Siberian tiger named Drifter.

"It was [then] fashionable to have an ocelot, a leopard, a cheetah or a monkey [as a pet]. Whenever people would get into trouble with their animals, I'd get a phone call," she said as she nestled Drifter's head--as long as her torso--against her chest. She cooed baby talk to the massive cat who seemed startled by a noise in a nearby bush.

By 1976, she had adopted more than 50 animals that shared her three-bedroom home. She bought the Tujunga Canyon property and founded the Waystation, which, she said, is the largest facility of its kind.

Irv Felder, organizer of the car show, said the 1957 Mercedes Goldwing, 1937 Packer convertible and other classics were expected by day's end to draw about 2,000 to the event sponsored by the Sportsman's Lodge.

All proceeds from the second annual event, he said, would go to support Wildlife Waystation's $2.5-million annual budget, all of which comes from private donations.

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