In the belly of the beast - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

In the belly of the beast

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The seemingly contented big cat macking down on bone-in chicken tartar is Natasha. She's been living at Lions, Tigers and Bears, a no-kill exotic animal rescue facility in Alpine, since September 2002 after spending the first five years of her life in abusive conditions.

"She came from Texas and she was a backyard pet. She was housed in a 6-by-12 with Raja, the male that's at our place for at least five years. No shade, no shelter," Bobbi Brink said.

Now she spends her days alongside her two children at Lions, Tigers and Bears, where she is cared for by a dedicated staff of volunteers. But recently, Natasha showed signs of being ill, so it was off to the vet for tests.

"That's how we figured out she might have uterine cancer. She definitely has a mass on her uterus, and an abnormal uterus," Bobbi said.

Natasha was transported to Kearny Mesa, where she was sedated and brought in for surgery. In order to be transported into the animal hospital, the 350-pound tiger had to be loaded by hand onto gurney. It was a painstakingly slow process -- one slip up here and you could be dealing with a drugged, terrified tiger. Now Natasha's fate rests in the vet's hands.

"If (the cancer's) anywhere, if it's further, then we kind of have to make that decision then. But we'll most likely just close her back up. We're just hoping to get everything out today," Bobbi said.

Meanwhile, the vet bills mount for this nonprofit.

"We have what we call our veterinary fund, so any time you donate to our veterinary fund, it goes to help cover costs like this," Bobbi explained.

Natasha's surgery was a complete success. She is cancer-free and slated to make a full recovery and live out her days chomping on chicken. You can send your get well wishes to Lions, Tigers and Bears.

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