There were two, not just one, noteworthy fundraising events in Studio City this week. Yeah, everybody heard about on the other side of Studio City to meet President Obama.
But, for a few dozen others, a $100 donation got you a private meeting with a live, stunningly majestic cheetah named Victor on Saturday evening.
Visiting from Namibia, Dr. Laurie Marker—the founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund that is trying to save cheetahs from extinction—surprised Victor's longtime handlers with her calming connection to the spotted feline. This "cheetah whisperer" made Victor so comfortable that he spread out on the table and relaxed for the audience—something he's never done before at his public meetings.
"These are the most endangered of the cats in all of Africa," Marker explained to the onlookers. "They do not breed well in captivity."
Feldstein said he visited Marker's reserve in Africa in December and said, "What she is doing there is unique and remarkable. Everyone should get over there and visit her."
Not only does the cheetah organization help find safe habitats for the majestic animals, but they also educate African farmers who might otherwise hunt and kill the cheetahs that prey on their livestock. The fund is promoting special guard dogs for the farmers that could keep away the large cats.
One of the youngest attendees at Saturday's fundraiser was Bey Weston, a 9-year-old third grader who attends and lives in Studio City. She has sent a percentage of her allowance to the Cheetah Conservation Fund since she was 3 years old.
"My mom read me a book about the cheetahs and how much trouble they were in, and it made me sad and want to do something about it," Bey said. "I think they are such beautiful creatures. I've wanted to help them ever since."
Meeting a live cheetah was an exciting moment for Bey and the others.
Of course the event was safe. The cheetah was kept on a harness and leash that is required by law. The animal has attended school functions and lived all its life around humans, and is tame, but not domesticated. No touching, no petting. Cheetahs don't have retractable claws, they are always bared, so you don't want to get too close.
Victor was a bit distracted by crowd anyway, paying no attention to the cooing and compliments. He seemed more interested in anything that moved in the sky or in the bushes. His head darted around, looking at the rooftop.
The 95-pound cat lives on top sirloin and other food and doesn't usually get to stalk prey, but his instincts are clearly there.
"This remarkable animal has had a history with humans for the past 5,000 years," Dr. Marker said. "It is a tragedy that they came so close to extinction, but with help at events like this, we can stop that."
The special event was at the home of Diane Haithman and Heidi, who co-write A Paw at the Door on Saturdays for Studio City Patch. Heidi didn't get to meet the real Victor, but instead posed with a stuffed stunt double instead that was raffled off at the event.
Please look at the photo gallery and some video clips sent in by attendees. You can add photos of your own as well if you were at the event.