You will pay the veterinary bill if a shelter employs a vet to treat your lost cat

The scenario: you have lost your elderly cat. A neighbour finds her and takes her to a local shelter. The shelter management decide that your cat needs veterinary treatment and they organise it. The shelter pays a veterinarian. You find out that your cat is at this shelter and you ask for her back. The shelter says that you have to pay the veterinary bill before you can have your cat back. You are obliged to pay the veterinary bill.

Cat at a veterinary clinic
Cat at a veterinary clinic. This is a generic photo. Photo: Pixabay.
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That scenario is what happened more or less to a woman living in the City of Coquitlam, in Metro Vancouver, Canada. She actually disputed the obligation to pay the veterinary bill and took the matter to a tribunal which decided that the shelter was right and she was wrong.

The cat’s name is Zuki. She is an elderly cat and her health problems are linked to her age. She went missing last September. Shelter workers immediately took Zuki to a private vet linked to the shelter for an examination. She was found to be frail, dehydrated with leg weakness.

The shelter decided that Zuki needed a veterinary examination and treatment if necessary. As it happens, Zuki’s owner had her euthanised shortly after she picked up her cat from this shelter. She argued that Zuki did not require veterinary treatment because she was elderly. She also argued that the shelter should have released her cat to her earlier when she called on the day that Zuki went missing.

The shelter said that Zuki was already at the veterinarian when her owner called. She filed a complaint with a local tribunal to recover her $384 she had paid to the shelter.

The tribunal said that shelter workers are not qualified to make a detailed assessment as to a cats’ health and therefore they had to employ a vet to do it for them. If they didn’t, they would be a breach of their duty of care towards the cats in their charge.

The bylaws of this city state that an enforcement officer can seize a cat that is “at large” (ostensibly without an owner) and apparently in distress and suffering. The bylaw also states that the owner can collect their cat after paying the impound fees, custodial charges and veterinary bills.

I think the story is quite instructive and although it is particular to this city in Metro Vancouver, I would imagine that the same or similar rules apply to most locations in America and animal shelters. Otherwise, a shelter would be paralysed as to what to do. If they can’t contact the owner, which they normally cannot, they have to make a decision about a cat’s health and sometimes take urgent steps. They must be free to take those steps without the possibility of being sued or being liable for costs spent on behalf of the owner.

Below are some pages on cat shelters.

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