Warning About Pet Adoptions

While rescuing a pet usually means the gift of instant companionship and years of unconditional love, one couple says their quick decision to adopt a kitten has resulted in heartbreak and thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Stratton Taylor and Mitzi Hum spotted the tiny ball of gray and white fur they've named Echo at an adoption event outside a Hollywood Petco store in October.

Despite having two cats already, they couldn't resist.

"We were told she was happy, healthy, up to date on shots and everything," Taylor says.

They say a volunteer promised to email a contract and sent them home with their new kitten.

"And two days into it she started having medical problems."

At first, their vet diagnosed parasites, but when medicine didn't help, an exam revealed she had severe pneumonia that required emergency intervention, including days spent in an oxygen chamber.

Echo managed to survive as the couple's veterinary bills soared.

"Well over $6,000 dollars in about three weeks," says Taylor.

Taylor and Hum contacted Tails of the City, the rescue group that hosted the adoption event outside Petco, asking for help with the bills.

When the group refused and Petco didn't respond to their emails the couple turned to the I-Team.

We reached out to Tails of the City and the founder says that a rescue volunteer had apparently acted on her own, adopting out a kitten that had been part of a litter, abandoned in the parking lot on the day their event was being held.

She says her group "had nothing to do with the medical treatment or placement of the litter."

At NBC4's request, Petco also investigated and concluded that because the incident involved a volunteer who no longer works with Tails of the City, they'd be taking no action either.

And because Taylor and Hum failed to insist upon a written contract when they took ownership of the kitten, they have no legal recourse.

"It can be very tragic. What if it's your first experience with a pet and you have a lot of illness and you're not financially stable to take care of it and it's medication for the rest of the pet's life?" says Madeline Bernstein, president of SPCA Los Angeles.

That'll be the case for Echo, but despite the financial hit, Taylor and Hum vow to do whatever it takes to keep the tiniest member of their family going for as long as she can.

"Our life was turned upside down," says Taylor. "But, if this one's going to have a chance, we're going to give it to her."

There is some protection for California consumers who end up with unhealthy pets. Known as the "puppy lemon law" it offers a warranty for dogs purchased from a commercial breeder or store.

But cats and rescue adoptions aren't covered.

If you're adopting, your best bet is to insist on a signed contract, outlining the terms, before you ever take a pet home.

Here is a sample adoption contract and some tips for what to ask when adopting a new pet.

You can find out more about the "puppy lemon law" here.

To help Taylor and Hum with Echo's expenses, you can visit their GoFundMe site.

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