VAN NUYS (CBSLA.com) — Acting on a tip, animal control officers found a 8-foot alligator in the backyard of a home in Van Nuys, officials said Wednesday.

The alligator — a 38-year-old female named Jaxson — was found in a covered box in the rear yard of a home in the 13200 block of Sylvan Street, officials from the LA County Department of Animal Services said.

Animal control officers received a tip late last year about a 10-foot-long alligator at the home and searched the property at the time without finding the animal. Officers planned a follow-up visit in case the alligator had been relocated to avoid capture by the resident, officials said.

During that surprise visit Monday, the alligator – estimated to be  8 feet long – was found, along with the carcasses of two dead cats. The carcasses were impounded along with the alligator, officials said.

Owner Laura Mattson says the alligator belonged to her husband, who got the alligator as a baby in 1977. When her husband died a few years ago, she took on Jaxson’s care, as well as the care of neutered feral cats that were taken to her home by a cat rescue organization.

“They’re basically saying we’re taking the animals and feeding them to the alligator. And that’s not true,” Mattson’s brother, Ron Goreki, said.

“Never, no, there was no way” she would have used the cats as food for the alligator, Mattson said.

Mattson and Goreki say they’ve been trying to find a home for the alligator, and at one point contacted the L.A. Zoo.

“They had no room,” Mattson said of the zoo.

Animal services officials asked that residents who have lost small pets at any time over the past 40 years to contact Commander Mark Salazar at (213) 482-7455.

The alligator is now being cared for at the zoo, where Mattson says could be a happy ending for this story.

“I mean, that would be the best thing for her, plus maybe she could find a mate,” Mattson said.

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