CENTER POINT, Ind. -The splotches of blood run deep. They've turned Rebecca Rizzo's camouflage jacket a dark brown.

The stains come from the cow heads, horse carcasses, and chunks of raw muscle that Rizzo carves off dead animals with a chainsaw. She can be found most days carting them through the 100-acre Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Ind., about 65 miles west of Indianapolis, feeding them to the big cats pacing inside their cages.

Kya, a tiger, greets Rizzo at the 12-foot-tall fence, standing up to place her paws against her keeper's hands. Max, another tiger, rubs his whiskers along her face. A grumbling lion growls at Rizzo as she passes, but in a loving tone. He knows she cares and wants her to acknowledge his displeasure.

When Rizzo shouts "BOYS!" in a stern voice to Rodney and George, two leopard brothers, for putting each other's heads in their mouths, they quickly look at her and stop.

To call her the cat whisperer would be too easy, but that's kind of what Rizzo is. Six days a week, the 32-year-old head keeper with piercing violet-blue eyes oversees the care and feeding of 230 cats at the sanctuary - ranging from tigers, lions and leopards to ocelots, black leopards, servals and Canadian lynx.

The work is physically grueling; Rizzo, who weighs a mere 110 pounds, works out daily to stay strong. And it can be dangerous. In June, one of the center's workers, Marissa Dub, was attacked by an 18-year-old tiger. A side gate to the cage she was cleaning had accidentally been left open. Dub spent about two weeks in intensive care, recovering from a head injury.

"She is very lucky to be alive," Rizzo said.


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