How a rescue center in Indiana cares for big cats

CENTER POINT, Ind. -- Joe Taft has been rescuing big cats for 26 years. He's been caring for some tigers since they were born. But not everyone at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana is such a cool cat.

That's because most of the 200 big cats there were rescued from abusive conditions. Many arrived in poor health -- some in agonizing pain from dental disease. So twice a year, cats who are showing symptoms of lion-sized toothaches are tranquilized.

"He is out for the count. But he's growling. Is that normal?" CBS News asked. "No," Taft said with a laugh.

They're then transported to makeshift operating rooms where about three dozen volunteer doctors, dentists and technicians are waiting.

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Most of the 200 big cats at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana were rescued from abusive conditions. 

CBS News

First, the anesthesia team in blue administers drugs to make sure the sleeping beauties stay that way as long as necessary. They insert breathing tubes as long as baseball bats, and keep close track of their vitals.

Next, the green teams take over. Dentists and technicians from all over the country work on a tiger named Zennie in one room, and in the other room, Jababy the lion, who appears to have been in excruciating pain for years. All four of his canine teeth were cut or filed down and are severely infected.

"So what are you going to have to do to him?" CBS News asked.

"Currently we're doing four root canals. Four root canals. At the same time, yeah," Taft said.

All at the same time because speed is essential -- keeping them under for too long could threaten their health.

"So he's going to feel a lot better when this is done?" CBS News asked. "Absolutely," another dentist said.

Most on the medical teams come every year -- some have been dozens of times. They do it out of love, and to give the magnificent creatures creatures a chance to live pain free.

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A lion at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana.

CBS News
  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.