Well-meaning friend gives Easter flowers that poisoned our cat.
April 14, 2017 10:14 AM   Subscribe

The cat is fine now, after a few days in the cat ER, thankfully! But this was a very expensive hospital stay and we are wondering if the giver of flowers should try to help offset the cost of the vet bill. What is the etiquette here?

After the friend found out what happened, they felt terrible of course, but didn't offer to help. I'm not putting the blame on them, as I should have checked to see what kind of flowers they were and whether or not they were toxic to cats. I just put the flowers on the table and it didn't dawn on me until later that they might be poisonous. Sure enough, they were! And my cat had eaten several leaves. We had to take her to the cat emergency room and leave her for several days to make sure the toxins were out of her body. Very scary! Cat came back fine, thankfully, but we were slammed with a big bill.

I don't feel comfortable asking friend to help pay for this vet bill, but I feel like if I were in their shoes, I would absolutely offer to help. I would have felt so bad that something I did caused so much distress.

So, what to do? They feel bad, but didn't offer any help. What should our expectations be?
posted by crunchy_cereals to Human Relations (56 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would not expect help, or necessarily offer it, unless I had a pressing reason (I was very close with this person and also knew that they were struggling a lot financially, and I felt the need to generally protect them from financial calamity).
posted by stoneandstar at 10:16 AM on April 14 [12 favorites]

Nooo, this is a bummer, but that doesn't seem like a reasonable expectation. I'm so sorry, though.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:17 AM on April 14 [117 favorites]

I should have checked to see what kind of flowers they were and whether or not they were toxic to cats.

They aren't responsible. At all. They have no obligation here and you shouldn't expect it of them.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 10:18 AM on April 14 [204 favorites]

Yeah, it's not on them to help pay for this. You are only human, so don't blame yourself for not knowing everything about everything and not being 100% perfect at protecting your kitty from every single bad thing, but it is really 100% your responsibility and not theirs to protect your cat from stuff that comes into your home.

Gifts are gifts. Your friend is not responsible for knowing anything about cats or your cat.

Now, if someone was in a financial position to help and offered, that would be great. It's a possibility, but absolutely not an obligation.

There need to be possible actions that are not obligations, though, or people lose the ability to act virtuously.
posted by amtho at 10:20 AM on April 14 [14 favorites]

I don't feel comfortable asking friend to help pay for this vet bill, but I feel like if I were in their shoes, I would absolutely offer to help.

That would be the better etiquette move, even a token, but it's not how everyone would handle it and I don't think it's one of those mandated etiquette moves where your friend is a jerk for not doing it. They didn't know. You have ultimate responsibility for what your pet consumes. I think you have to let this one go. I am glad your cat is okay.
posted by jessamyn at 10:20 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

This is definitely your cost to bear. If your friend bought you a scarf and your cat choked on the fringe, would you think the friend should bear a portion on the vet bills? They have no responsibility for what your cat does.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:20 AM on April 14 [33 favorites]

I'm so glad your kitty is okay, but I agree that your friend is 100% not responsible for chipping in for vet bills. You could have refused the flowers, put them somewhere the cat has no access to, or discretely dumped them after the friend left - and while it's totally understandable that this didn't occur to you at the time, if even you didn't think about the risk to your cat, I don't think it's reasonable to expect your friend to.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:20 AM on April 14 [14 favorites]

When my friend did this to me (almost literally - they were lilies right? those fuckers are everywhere) she did pay for half the vet bills because she felt really badly about it. But we were quite close. They might be so dismayed they don't know what to do with themselves.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:21 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Is the friend well-versed in cats, or would you in any expect the friend to know about things that are poisonous to cats? Is your friend close enough to your cat to know that it eats random plants?

If the answer to the above questions is no, if the friend was just trying to give plants as a cheerful thing, then no, I would absolutely not expect any sort of compensation from them.

I'm a dog owner and a dog lover and I would never approach someone who tried to do something kind for me to reimburse me for something stupid that my dog did, and that I should have been watching out for. That's my responsibility as a pet owner.

If you approached me for compensation in this situation I would be so offended that you'd never hear from me again.
posted by vignettist at 10:21 AM on April 14 [26 favorites]

I'd feel awful if I accidentally assisted in hurting a pet, but it's on the level of "heres some cookies and a nice homecooked meal and some cat toys" vs $$$.

I'm sorry your cat got hurt, but I think part of being a good pet owner is understanding that the beloved lil blighters are sometimes horridly expensive :(

(you also failed to pay the cat tax of posting pics!)
posted by Jacen at 10:22 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]

I just wanted to emphasize that it would never occur to me to pay for injury to a pet for consuming a non-pet focused gift.

If they had given defective treats or cat toys, it might occur to me, but otherwise, this is 100% not their problem.

I understand you're not going to ask them to pay, but you also shouldn't harbor any resentment that it doesn't occur to them to volunteer. This would not be a normal thing people would think to do. Knowing whether your cat eats houseplants (or buttons, or fabric, or chicken bones) is 100% your responsibility.
posted by mercredi at 10:23 AM on April 14 [38 favorites]

They really aren't responsible. It is a bummer, and I've faced down big vet bills for freak random accidents and eaten the weeks of ramen necessary to offset them, but it's not anyone else's responsibility and I don't feel like you're justified in feeling like they ought to help. In a similar position, I'd probably refuse the funds even if the friend offered.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:25 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't expect the friend to pay. Heck, I have had cats for going-on-decades and *I* just learned (or maybe re-learned) recently how poisonous lilies are to cats.

Don't beat yourself up either. What I *would* do it make some social media postings and send a quick text to everyone I know with cats to give a heads up in case they don't know either and possibly save another kitty from what yours went through.

I'm so glad your cat is ok!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:26 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't expect payment, and if I were in this situation, if the friend who had given the flowers "found out" that the leaves had made my cat sick, they wouldn't have found out from me. I would consider it insensitive to say to someone, "That gift you graciously gave me ended up causing me problems."

So as you consider your friend's response (based on your own feeling that you would make an offer to share costs if you were in the same situation), bear in mind that this is a case in which reasonable people's behavior could vary greatly from your own sense of what's right and wrong.
posted by layceepee at 10:27 AM on April 14 [33 favorites]

This is the kind of thing where, if I were the friend, I would definitely offer to pay part of the vet bill. But even as I did it I would be thinking "self, this is one of those things where you are blaming yourself and overcompensating for things that are not actually your fault, and you do not need to do this." But I'd do it anyway because my anxiety brain would be yelling at me that maybe I'm wrong.

If I were in your shoes, I would not expect any help and probably would not accept it if offered, unless maybe I were in an extremely tight spot and knew the other person to be swimming in pools of gold Scrooge McDuck style such that it would cause them no pain at all to pay the bill. At most, I might let the other person buy me dinner or a round of drinks to help cheer me up if they were really insistent that they wanted to do something to help make up for what had happened.
posted by Stacey at 10:28 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Lots of things are toxic to cats. This is not your friend's fault, at all.
posted by bondcliff at 10:32 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

I should add a few more details. Friend was present as the whole scene unfolded and we both realized the flowers would harm the cat; the cat would have to go to the ER.

Friend is also a person who makes quite a lot of money and is very generous with it, so I was a bit surprised at the non-offer of help.

I guess I was just surprised because I know I would have helped a friend in that situation, not that I expected friend to help.
posted by crunchy_cereals at 10:33 AM on April 14

The flowers were given to you, and you placed them in a spot that allowed your cat to eat them. That's on you, man. Glad the kitty is okay. But it really could have been anything dangerous to cats, and it'd still be your job to put your stuff away where the cat can't get into it. Especially if it's something you know the cat would be attracted to. It could've been the same deal if the friend had given you a bunch of Cadbury creme eggs, or some French onion soup.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:33 AM on April 14 [38 favorites]

Yeah, this is a shitty thing to happen, but no you shouldn't ask for any money. They sent you flowers! It's a nice thing. It's on you to protect your pets from their own worst instincts. Now going forward you'll know.

Personally I hate that almost every nursery and florist's shop doesn't ask if the recipient has pets in their home. SO MANY of the most attractive plants are toxic. I wish they'd add a note to plants in, say, Home Depot: "Safe for pets," "Toxic for pets and children", etc.
posted by clone boulevard at 10:33 AM on April 14 [16 favorites]

I guess, to expand on what I said... what if your friend gave you a Yo-Yo and a couple days later your cat choked on the string. Would you feel like your friend was at fault?
posted by bondcliff at 10:34 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Agree that your friend has no responsibility here. If you gave a bottle of wine to parents of small children and they left it out and their child drank it, no reasonable person would consider that your fault. When I get flowers, I always make sure they're out of my cat's reach because I know that cats eat flowers.
posted by FencingGal at 10:36 AM on April 14 [10 favorites]

I feel like if I were in their shoes, I would absolutely offer to help.

That would be very generous of you, but it doesn't necessarily make your friend ungenerous that she didn't think of it.

Also, if your friend does not have pets (or has never had a pet emergency), she may have no idea as to how much these emergency vet situations can cost.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:36 AM on April 14 [15 favorites]

To be honest, I am pretty shocked that you would even expect her to offer. I mean, I see your position, and even with the "additional details" it's not her responsibility. And I would be pretty insulted if you asked me to help pay after trying to do a nice gesture for you.

Have you considered that as as a cat owner you also have a responsibility to ensure your cat doesn't eat potentially bad things?

I'm really sorry about your cat, though.
posted by pando11 at 10:36 AM on April 14 [56 favorites]

I'm very sorry that this happened and am glad that your cat is okay, but... I also think it's uncool to judge another person's actions based on what you think you would do in a given situation. Yes, it would be nice if your friend gave you money for this, but they're not required to do so, and whether or not you would give money if you were in their shoes is immaterial, as they are not you.
posted by palomar at 10:39 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

Giving chocolate to a friend with dogs wouldn't make the giver responsible, so I think this is in the same territory. I'm glad your kitty is okay!
posted by warriorqueen at 10:41 AM on April 14 [13 favorites]

Friend was present as the whole scene unfolded and we both realized the flowers would harm the cat; the cat would have to go to the ER.

The only scenario I can see where this is friend's responsibility is if friend brought the flowers into your house when you were not home and left them there for the cat to eat. With your additional details it's still unclear

- did friend know the flowers were bad for the cat beforehand?
- if so, did friend think the cat wouldn't eat them?

Like in a scenario where you are both there and kitty is moving towards the plant and you are both slow-motion going "Nooooooooo" it's still on you as the pet owner to handle the situation.

Etiquette is a continuum, not a light switch. It would be exceptionally polite to offer to help out. That does not make it impolite to not offer to help.
posted by jessamyn at 10:42 AM on April 14 [37 favorites]

Friend is also a person who makes quite a lot of money and is very generous with it
Her income is not an issue here; whether she's broke or rich, there isn't some unspoken obligation for her to offer her personal money for your pet care, just because she witnessed the situation.

I know I would have helped a friend in that situation
Please know that not everyone would do this. And I'd bet most people would decline that offer. I don't know that it'd even necessarily be polite to offer; offering someone money just because you're present when a big expense comes up seems odd, not nice, to me.

She didn't violate any etiquette norm here, so I think you'd feel better if you found a way to let this one go in your mind.
posted by kapers at 10:44 AM on April 14 [9 favorites]

Your additional details don't change things. I'm sorry you and your cat had to go through this, but it's 100% not on your friend to pay.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:45 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]

You didn't even think of the flowers and you're the cat owner. Why should the non-cat owner be held to a higher standard than you?
posted by thatone at 10:46 AM on April 14 [76 favorites]

Your friend is absolutely not obligated to help pay the vet bill. Not in the slightest.

I have two cats. I know that these cats have difficulty keeping their mouths to themselves, and that they WILL chew plants and flowers. Thus, I do not bring plants or flowers into my home without checking for toxicity first, and if someone gives me flowers, they go waaaaay up on top of a bookcase where the cats can't get them.

You are the cat owner. It's your responsibility, not your friend's, and they are doing nothing wrong by not offering to pay.
posted by sarcasticah at 10:53 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I have cats and the plants I bring into my home are checked against a toxic plant list. Frankly, if I were you I'd feel terrible that my negligence caused a friend to feel awful about a kind gift they'd brought me.
posted by lalex at 10:54 AM on April 14 [16 favorites]

I have a dog, and chocolate is poisonous to dogs. If you gave me a fancy bar of chocolate, and I put it on the table and my dog ate it, would you really offer to pay the vet bill?
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:54 AM on April 14 [36 favorites]

Not responsible at all. Why is the person who gave you a gift liable? Why not all the people who DIDN'T give you anything for Easter? This is a better friend than those people, and she shouldn't be punished for her generosity.
posted by Guinevere at 10:55 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]

Your friend's financial situation is totally immaterial here; frankly, she was generous by bringing you flowers in the first place. The only way she would be financially liable for any of this would be if she FED the flowers to your cat. Let this one go. It's not her responsibly to watch out for your kitty. I'm glad the cat will be okay!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:58 AM on April 14 [8 favorites]

Honestly? I think you should tell her that you expected assistance with the vet bills. Not because you are right to expect that assistance, but so she can decide going forward if giving you gifts is worth the stress. You're the one who failed to protect your cat. Stop trying to blame your friend.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:13 AM on April 14 [14 favorites]

Consider that your friend doesn't know that you might not bristle and be positively offended by a offer to monetary help. ("What, don't you think I can take care of my own cat?" or "Ugh, does she think I'm beholden to her now?") There's a whole spectrum of reactions when it comes to this sort of thing.

If you are really struggling, mention that to the friend ("I am really worried about making rent next month after that unexpected bill; if only I had a fairy godmother!"). Or set up a crowdfund and include her in the invites.

So glad your kitty is doing well!
posted by metaseeker at 11:28 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Your friend is not responsible in the least. If you feel like there should be some remedy to this situation, make efforts to inform more cat owners about this issue.
posted by k8t at 11:55 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Hell to the no. It didn't even occur to you to make sure the flowers weren't poisonous, why on earth should your friend have more responsibility toward your cat? She has zero obligation here.

And don't count other people's money.
posted by amro at 11:56 AM on April 14 [21 favorites]

If I was the friend in this situation, I might offer to help in non-monetary ways -- rushing them to the Vet, helping learn how to pill a cat if she needed meds, maybe sitting with the cat if she needed to be supervised for awhile after the incident and the owner had other obligations (I wouldn't take time off work, but evenings, or weekends) -- but even with the feeling of responsibility, there's no way I would offer to help pay vet bills for this unless I knew my friend would otherwise have to decide between paying the vet bills and putting the cat down.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:03 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Aw man, I'm really sorry you and your cat had to go through all that.

If it's possible to do so, I'd like to add my voice to the chorus without piling on. Because I kind of get why this is nagging at you, but I think if you tried to go over a script in your mind to describe to your friend why you think she should contribute, you'd have a hard time making it make sense. As you say, she meant well and it wasn't her fault.

Sometimes in life unfortunate things just happen. This is one of those times. It's tempting to look for a cause or try to assign blame just to make sense of it, but there isn't any blame to go around here. It's just a sucky thing that happened and as the cat parent the cost is yours to bear. Same as if this had been some completely freak accident with no one else involved.
posted by mama casserole at 12:15 PM on April 14 [18 favorites]

Yeah, sorry ... I really hope that you can read all of these comments and use them to kinda adjust your expectations here. I think it'd really stink to harbor resentment towards your well-meaning friend.

If your friend gave you a bottle of wine, and your cat drank the wine, whose fault would that be? Certainly not your generous friend who gifted you a nice bottle of wine. Whose responsibility is it to keep the house safe for their pet? Yours, and only yours.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:17 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to pile on, but not only is it your responsibility to keep your cat from eating lilies, it's also your responsibility to take out pet insurance if you know you would struggle to pay an emergency vet bill. None of this is your friend's fault.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:15 PM on April 14 [11 favorites]

You should either ask the friend to call the florist and bring this up with them (thus giving your friend another chance to offer to help) or ask friend for florist's number. The florist should know. Many, many people have cats. I didn't know florists sold cat poison. But I can't afford fresh flowers. Seems like ALL florists should have signs in their store "are you buying this for someone who has pets?" or "these flowers are safe for pet owners".

I totally don't think your friend should pay for this but I think the florist should have warned y'all.
posted by cda at 2:57 PM on April 14

Please don't involve the florist in this drama. You wouldn't expect a chocolatier to warn you about toxicity just in case you have a dog, would you?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:34 PM on April 14 [12 favorites]

I think there's a thing sometimes with friends and family members with money where you just wind up wanting them to be more generous than they are. It's something I find myself doing with family sometimes - things like, "Rich Relative has oodles of money, why don't they offer to help me with X thing I'm struggling with!" The gulf between the incomes seems so vast that it just instinctively feels like they owe more than you would feel another friend in the same situation would.

If this were a friend who made as much money as you, would you be offended they didn't offer?
posted by corb at 4:52 PM on April 14 [9 favorites]

OP: I don't want to hijack the thread, but an Easter/cat person, I'd love it if you could let us know what kind of flowers they were.
posted by 4ster at 7:09 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

This came up in my Twitter feed today. Avoid lilies!
posted by lalex at 8:29 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing lilies or a flower in the lily family.

I'm with all the other commenters. Don't want to pile on, just add my voice as another cat owner. I myself have gotten bulbs in the lily family, thinking that since they weren't lilies they would be safe... then getting them home, having a functional internet connection (this was several years ago when smartphones still weren't widespread and nor was coverage), and realizing they could kill my cats.

I too wish gardening stores and those with garden centers would put labels on plants. As it is, I browse our local garden center once a month and do about a dozen internet searches, ending up with pansies and phlox because everything else is deadly or almost deadly.
posted by fraula at 4:30 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

The flowers were day lilies. I normally have a "no plants" policy in my home due to my cat wanting to eat them. This was just one of those off times when I forgot to check about a particular plant because I'm not used to having them around. Lesson learned and lucky the cat is ok. Not blaming friend at all.
posted by crunchy_cereals at 9:55 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I don't see where the cat was sick and had to go to the emergency vet for treatment. I see that you brought him to the vet for observation after it appeared he had eaten some of the plant. Without symptoms of poison - pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stoned behavior, etc. - several days of observation at an emergency vet seem an unnecessary expense. Even had he actually been sick it would be wrong to expect your friend to pay for it, but from what you have described the cat wasn't even sick.
posted by headnsouth at 4:26 AM on April 16

headnsouth, the immediate treatment is because lilies are so toxic to cats that waiting for symptoms is too late. Not a vet but this is what dr Google consistently told me after I was recently given lilies and had a minor freak out about it.
posted by kitten magic at 1:40 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]

Yes, kitten magic is right. Poison control for animals, who I consulted, also echoed this information. It was absolutely a necessary expense to take the cat to emergency care than to let it go to see if the cat might die or not. Thanks for all the comments, even the rude ones. I know it would not have been right to ask friend for assistance, nor would I have ever asked. That wasn't really the point of my question. I was asking more about how other people would have reacted, because if I were the one to accidentally do this to someone else's animal, the first thing I would do is offer to help. But I guess that's just me! I have passed the information on to others to help prevent mistakes like the one that I made.
posted by crunchy_cereals at 9:37 AM on April 17

lalex that's pretty great, I post something almost every year around Mother's Day / Easter because that's ex-fucking-actly what my cats went to the ER for. It's pricey and terrifying.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:23 PM on April 17

I was asking more about how other people would have reacted, because if I were the one to accidentally do this to someone else's animal, the first thing I would do is offer to help.

Your friend did not do anything to your animal, accidentally or not. Your friend gave you a gift. It was your responsibility to keep it away from your cat, or your cat away from it.
posted by headnsouth at 1:28 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]

...if I were the one to accidentally do this to someone else's animal, the first thing I would do is offer to help

In some sense, it's because of the expense of the ER visit that they can't offer to help. If it were a simple case of "oh, dear the cat has eaten the $25 item, let me replace that for you" then that's an easy kindness to do. But how can this friend express their sympathy and concern somewhere between just saying "gosh, I'm so sorry!" and (at least suggesting) handing you $2000 for an ER bill? There's not an easy bite-size way for them to contribute. They might make a gesture of kindness toward you, bring you a bottle of wine or a dish of food (the way one might when someone is sick) or bring a replacement cat-safe festive plant. But we're all in agreement that the situation is unfortunate but not their responsibility, so not the entire $2000 (or however much). So if they wanted to contribute to the vet bill, how can they decide how much is appropriate? Consider if they'd immediately said "Hey here's $250 toward the vet bill" how would that make you feel - thrilled at how thoughtful they were? disappointed that your cat is clearly undervalued at $250? indignant that they think they can buy you off? appalled that they don't understand how much vets cost? embarrassed that they think you need $250? Once cash starts to change hands, it's a social minefield. I think they made the right call in not offering to pay for anything, but I hope they'll do something nice and sympathetic for you, just as a gesture.
posted by aimedwander at 8:06 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]

You make the right points aimedwander. Yes, this is the best answer and a good explanation. I don't know what I thought should happen. I think the stress and urgency of the situation has worn off now and in hindsight, I think it made us a little crazy when we were dealing with it. We are glad it's over and the cat is ok. Actually embarrassed that I even asked this question. Thanks all!
posted by crunchy_cereals at 6:26 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

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