Adopted cat, age quoted was 2, vet says 12, and he has cancer. What to do?
August 24, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Adopted cat, age quoted was 2, vet says 12, and he has cancer. What to do?


Adopted a cat from the AZ Humane Society one month ago. He's been sick ever since. Had an upper respiratory infection, and then soon after lost his appetite and a lot of weight. His belly started to protrude.

We've taken him to two vets so far. One gave him a shot of antibiotics and an X-Ray. The second immediately quoted his age as incorrect, and said he was more likely to be 12 than anything close to 2. They did some blood work which did not show anything, but then drained some fluid from his belly which looked like it had cellular matter in it, and an ultrasound which showed very clear nodules all over, more than likely cancerous.

I've called the Humane Society, and they say that their way of determining the age is by looking at the teeth of the cat. I don't want to sue or harm the charity in any way, because I admire what they are doing on the whole. The only problem is that I have $1000+ in vet bills, a most likely dying cat, and an insurance policy that isn't valid on any of it because of his newly found age and pre-existing condition. All of this is based on the misinformation given to me by them. The emotional side is a whole other matter, you can't return a cat like an item of clothing that does not fit correctly. My wife and I have grown attached to the little guy in the last month and can't stand the thought of loosing him.

The Humane Society said that we could surrender him, and they would chose what next step to take, but they would not help out with any of the vet fees we've already incurred. If they find out it is something more minor we can reclaim him after they've done their work.

I'm lost, any ideas? Thank you in advance.
posted by hussmanne to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think there's anything you can do. The Humane Society did not, I assume, guarantee his age or that he did not have any diseases. They may have known and lied, but unless you can prove that, I think you're stuck.

Evidently this happens fairly frequently. I adopted a supposedly five-year old cat and both the vet and groomer immediately told me that he was more like 10. And yeah, he has some pretty obvious (once I got him home) health problems that the shelter didn't tell me about, and when I called to ask them why they denied ever knowing.
posted by amro at 5:09 PM on August 24, 2010

I'm sorry about all this sadness. But I do think you assume the risk when you adopt a cat. I'm sure the shelter did not intentionally mislead you about his age and condition, so it seems wrong to try to get any money back from them. Is there any chance you can argue with the insurance company you bought a policy with?

Best of luck.
posted by parkerjackson at 5:11 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: I'm so sorry for all that you're going through. I admire you for what you've already done and your unwillingness to just cast him aside like a broken toaster.

Checking the teeth was the main way they guesstimated the age of cats at the shelter I used to work at, and it should have been really obvious if the cat was that old. I'm no vet tech or anything close, but even I could tell the older cats from the younger ones once I had worked there a relatively short time. It's shocking that they would miss something like that, even if they don't have their own vet on staff (my shelter didn't, though a local vet came in once a week for wellness checks and spay/neuter surgery). Upper respiratory infections are sadly quite common in shelter cats. You do assume a certain amount of probable risks like that, but the cancer? I don't know. It might depend on how long the cat was there before you adopted him, and how likely it would have been for them to have noticed nodules or loss of appetite before you took him home.

Have you spoken to the director of the shelter, or have you just gotten a boilerplate "no refunds" script from the person answering the phone? I think if you squeak your wheels a little and demand to speak to someone higher on the food chain, perhaps with the threat of taking your story to the papers, you might get a better response. Animal shelters are usually terribly underfunded, and can't afford to lose donors over bad publicity that a story like this would cause. Many people think their local Humane Society is funded by the government or funded under some umbrella of the Humane Society of the United States, but that's almost never the case -- they're usually independently operated and rely heavily on donations. They can't be expected to X-ray every single animal that comes through their doors, but it seems to me that they could have shown a little more care in this case.
posted by Gator at 5:15 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you do take Gator's advice and talk to the director, maybe he or she could talk to the shelter's vet and see if the doc will do some pro bono work in this case?
posted by pised at 5:19 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's totally normal for a cat coming to you from a shelter to have a shelter cold, but that's usually why most shelters give you a certificate for one free vet visit. But the greater health issues - they honestly might not have known.

That said, there's a huge difference between 2 and 12, and it could be as simple as someone making a typo on the intake sheet. I adopted a 7 year old cat that acted like he was 3, and I'll honestly never, ever know what his true age was, so I can understand just blithely accepting what the shelter says as gospel.

The medical condition is always a crap shoot - there is no such thing as a guarantee, which you already know. And I imagine you could probably better swallow the bills if you didn't think you'd been sold a bill of goods by an organization you otherwise support. I would feel the same way - this isn't saying he's 6 and he's really 8.

I would definitely call the shelter and press your case and ask about getting some heavily discounted vet care for the cat, or barring that, call around to some other vets and explain the situation and see if someone wouldn't work with you. I imagine some vets would also admire what you are doing.
posted by micawber at 5:56 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: I'm sorry about all of this. It sounds to me like you are asking two questions.

A) What to do about your cat. I would do whatever leads to the least suffering, including euthanasia if necessary. Your decision in this regard should be well-informed and steered by compassion and a sense of responsibility, but your cat's quality of life and lack of suffering should be the primary guiding factors.

and B) What to do about how the Humane Society dealt with the whole adoption. I would consider going up the organizational hierarchy, but not with the hope of any financial compensation - more to help prevent this from happening again (to the extent possible - Gator is right, animals at shelters cannot be screened for all eventualities).

Good luck to you. I admire your compassion and efforts.
posted by analog at 6:12 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think there are two decisions to be made here. First is the emotional one. It appears as if you are attached to the little fellow and giving him back is not an option. Assuming that is true, I do not think you have many legal or moral options with respect to the vet bills. As the HS gave you the option to return the cat and even take it back if it turns out ok, I do not think you will find a legal or moral leg to stand on to be making costly medical decisions on a single cat for the Human Society. It sounds as if they may not have made the same decisions you would have spending the $1,000 or they have volunteer vets who will do it much cheaper.

If you are determined to do whatever you can afford to do to help this cat, then you need to pay for it. You could give the cat back to the HS and take it back after they have a medical look at it. It sounds like they will give him back to you at any time you want. That sounds to me like cheaper vet diagnosis services than what you have. You can always take him to your vet.

I would consider the amount paid as both a donation to the HS and the cost of trying to help your new little buddy. It sounds as if you are saying that if you knew he was sick to begin with or 12 years old, you would not have taken the cat. While I appreciate the intention was to adopt a healthy young cat with whom you could have a reasonably long and rewarding relationship, that is not what happened and now they have forced you to face certain difficult choices, namely what is more important, your hard earned dollars or this cat's future. Not an easy choice.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:53 PM on August 24, 2010

Best answer: For me, the primary responsibility would be to love the heck out of this wonderful guy for all the days he's got left. And then hold him when it's time. I do not treat for cancer in my own animals, to the point where I don't even pay to test for it -- I make sure they are not in pain and then it's all the chicken or heavy cream or peanut butter bones they could want for the rest of their days.

The Humane Society's line about returning the cat is the necessary boilerplate line. My city's shelter gets less than $100 to care for each animal expected through it's doors -- that includes spay/neuter, shots, micro-chip, feeding & housing -- so you can understand that they truly need to conserve costs as often as possible. Someone getting alarmed and taking a dog with kennel cough to the local vet school (think $$$$ to walk in the door) is not going to be reimbursed (and as a foster parent who's cared for 20+ dogs with kennel cough, I don't think they *should* be reimbursed) . . .

However, yours is an extreme case. To get the age of the animal wrong by 10 years is . . . a lot. I can think of no explanation for that. But there's no way they could, on $100, figure out if the cat had cancer if it wasn't symptomatic, so that's purely bad luck for everyone involved. If it were me, I think I would make an appointment with the COO of the shelter and explain that it was bad luck for everyone, and would they share some of the luck? They often have a fund set up for special cases -- at the very least they have a board of directors who's sole purpose is to get money donated -- they should be able to offer up some compensation. And if you must, threaten to get the news involved -- but be aware that bad publicity for the shelter means 'less business' = less adoptions = more killing.

I'm so, so sorry you have to go through this.
posted by MeiraV at 7:54 PM on August 24, 2010

Here's what you can do: give that cat the best rest of its life that you can. Worry about the humane society stuff later, and concentrate on your cat now*.

As for the age mistake, odds are good that the age estimate was actually 12, but whomever wrote it down had crap handwriting or the writing got smudged, and when it was transcribed into the records it ended up showing two. Clerical errors of this sort aren't uncommon, even with people, but with people the subject of the records tends to notice and correct 'em. That doesn't happen with animals in shelters, with all the relatively untrained volunteers trusting what's written down.

So if it helps, you're likely not talking about something intentional or vindictive, just a simple mistake**.

*I adopted an older cat, fully forewarned, and we had a great (short) time until he developed cancer that overran his body within a few weeks, nothing we could do except continue to pamper the hell out of him. Being a benefactor to a sick animal is its own reward.

**One of my dogs was "1 1/2" when we adopted him, but the first vet we took him to said he was more likely four; apparently the record showed a badly-written 4 that someone else translated into "1 1/2." When he finally passed away, it was from old age rather than a specific illness, and more or less confirmed his age as four-ish.
posted by davejay at 11:35 PM on August 24, 2010

I've had a few cats through the years and they've all come from rescue orgs. What I've always done and what I recommend to anyone who seeks my opinion is to get a written agreement with the rescue/shelter/humane society that prior to adoption you will take the cat to the vet, pay out of pocket to determine health and if they misrepresented, then you have the option to return the animal and get any money back.

One time when I proposed this, the shelter backed away from letting me take the cat. The other places were very happy to oblige.

At most it's $50 for a basic check. It should be an individual's decision whether to take on a sick and/or dying animal.

As to what you should do, go up the chain and share your information. Humane Society isn't a shelter run from the back of a house, and they have the responsibility to be reputable to the public and have a vet or a tech examine each animal in their care. So they should not only have known whether your kitty was sick and 10 years older, but they should have been providing him proper care.
posted by vivzan at 10:30 AM on August 25, 2010

Volunteering at a shelter and frequently aging cats by looking at their teeth mistaking 2 versus 12 is not happening UNLESS the cat had his teeth cleaned by a vet and whoever looked at him didn't notice that his teeth was also worn down. Also second talking to the director of the shelter.
posted by Ferrari328 at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all your thoughtful responses.

We got back from the Humane Society, unfortunately it seemed the best option was to have Boris put to sleep. It was very difficult to do, but his last week on this earth hasn't been the best. We'd been force feeding him, and giving him small doses of morphine for his pain. His belly had swollen although he'd lost considerable weight. He would just sit in the corner with his head against the wall.

They covered the final medical visit, fees, and cremation. My wife can't bear to deal with it anymore so we're just going to let it go. The Humane Society is so overrun with animals, they were having a no-fee adoption day today. We admire what they do, but are still hurt by the mistake, but luckily we feel we gave him the best last month of his life that we could.

Thank you all again.

posted by hussmanne at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2010

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