SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - It's been a tough day at the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary in Alpine after the sudden death of one of its most beloved animals.

A Bengal tiger named Sitarra had to be put down after seriously hurting her back over the weekend.

Owner Bobbi Brink says animals can actually feel Sitarra's loss.

"I think they just know. Don't you think they know? She's missing and now, she's not here," founder Brink said.

While she's always had a connection with her beloved animals, Brink says that bond is stronger and more emotional than it's ever been before.

"It's like a child for me, but for a lot of people, she means a lot to a lot of people," she said.

Sitarra was born at the sanctuary in 2003. Throughout her life, she never had any serious health issues. But that all changed Sunday afternoon.

"Sitarra was running around and playing. I had my dog out here, which is her friend. She was chasing him on the fence and we turned around and she was instantly paralyzed," Brink said.

Not knowing what was wrong, Bobbi called the vet, who told her to take Sitarra to a nearby animal hospital.

"The surgeon discovered that her spinal chord was damaged, and so we had to make the difficult decision to let her go," Brink said.

Among the dozens of beautiful creatures at Lions, Tigers and Bears, Sitarra leaves behind her sister Tabu, along with her parents Raj and Natosha.

"Raj and Natosha were the first two tigers we rescued here and Sitarra was born here. (Natosha) was pregnant," Brink said.

Bobbi says while the pain of losing Sitarra so suddenly is difficult to describe, she wants to cherish the good times and remember Sitarra not only for her gentle spirit, but for the difference she made in so many lives.

"I think she's brought education to thousands of children and thousands of people. She's very loved in San Diego," she said.

Sitarra will be cremated, then volunteers will have a special tribute for her. The sanctuary is funded mostly by donations.