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Coquitlam cat owner takes fight over unauthorized vet bill to civil tribunal

She wasn't allowed to take her elderly cat home unless she paid $384. Was it unfair? A tribunal says the Coquitlam animal shelter is obligated to get treatment if an animal appears to be ill.
GettyImages Cat at Vet
Vet listening to a cat's heart with a stethoscope.

It's every pet owner's nightmare.

Your elderly cat goes missing and you don't know where to look.

Fortunately, someone picks up the geriatric animal and takes them to a shelter.

However, what seems like an act of generosity only added more stress — and cost — to a Coquitlam resident, who took her case to B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT).

The organization is a resolution platform created to help people without lawyers resolve certain types of disputes quickly.

Each dispute must go through mandatory negotiation and mediation phases, where the parties can negotiate with each other. If they still can’t resolve the matter, then they have a "hearing" online or over the phone.

Vet bill to care for elderly cat was nearly $400

In the case of the missing elderly cat, an owner resident sought reimbursement of $384.05 in veterinary expenses incurred when Coquitlam animal shelter workers sent "Zuki" to a vet for a check up.

The cat, who was 15 years old and had a bad leg, went missing in September 2021; she was picked up by a Good Samaritan and taken to the Coquitlam Animal Shelter on Mariner Way.

When shelter workers saw her condition, including her state of dehydration, they took her immediately to the vet for care, according to a tribunal decision.

"They arranged for that service from one of Coquitlam’s contracted veterinarians immediately. Veterinary records show Zuki was given an exam, X-rays, a fluid bag and medication," the tribunal report states.

The owner looked for her pet and called the animal shelter to see if it had been located.

When she learned her cat had been found, the owner wanted to pick it up and take it home.

However, she was told it had already been taken to the vet.

The owner wanted to at least speak to the vet.

She told the tribunal Zuki was not in danger or distress and did not need urgent veterinary care, she was just elderly.

However, according to the tribunal, "she concedes that Zuki had one leg that was not 'working the same as the other three,'" and adds Zuki was already at the vet clinic when the owner called.

Owner had to pay fee before claiming cat

"This means I do not accept [the owner's] argument that Coquitlam could or should have released Zuki to [the owner] immediately. I also find it unproven that allowing [the owner] to speak to the vet would have reduced the expenses. [The owner] does not say which procedures were unnecessary."

The tribunal decided that the pet was in enough distress that the shelter workers made a good decision in taking the cat to the vet.

"Indeed, failing to do so may have been a breach of the duty of care," stated Micah Carmody, tribunal member.

The owner had to pay the vet fee before she could reclaim the cat, which was euthanized shortly after.

However, she wasn't charged any custodial or impound fees.

According to the tribunal decision, the shelter was not wrong to charge Zuki's owner for the vet bill before giving her back.

However, the owner will be refunded a $13.91 credit on some of the medication that wasn't used, as well as a 0.5 per cent interest charge.

In addition, the tribunal agreed because the owner was partially reimbursed, she shouldn't have to pay the full CRT fee.

Coquitlam is therefore required to reimburse the owner $62.50, being half her $125 in CRT fees, for a total of $76.46.

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