A FRAIL pensioner has been left with a £750 bill after an out-of-hours vet treated her cat when its tail jammed in a stairlift.

Firefighters who dismantled the stairlift at Maisie Wilkinson's Darlington home to free feline Tilly are now holding a whipround to help out.

The 81-year-old, who lives alone and receives daily support from carers, was charged £753.56 by the Vets Now service.

Her son Tony is angered at the size of the charge - which involved Tilly's late night collection by a vet and overnight care.

Next day she was transferred to the PDSA veterinary charity in Middlesbrough who amputated Tilly's injured tail free of charge.

"I don't know how they can justify the cost," said Mr Wilkinson, 61.

"All he did was give Tilly an injection and kept her overnight; the PDSA did the operation.

"My mother is worried sick about it all and wants to pay it but she hasn't got the money."

His mother, recovering from near-fatal E-Coli contracted in July, said the whole ordeal - which happened shortly after 10pm on a Thursday night - left her shaken and upset.

"It was terrible," she said. "I was coming downstairs and Tilly ran upstairs when her tail got caught.

"She was screaming and screaming; I didn't know what to do."

Her son called the fire brigade who dismantled the stairlift to free Tilly, whose tail had almost been severed by the cogs.

One of her carers spotted the fire engine outside and called in to comfort the pensioner during the hour-and-a-half ordeal.

Her son said he was warned that the Vets Now call-out charge would be around £300 but he was flabbergasted at the final cost.

"At the time I didn't feel like we had much choice; my mother was so upset and the cat was in so much pain, what else could we do?"

Richard White, district vet for Middlesbrough Vets Now who attended Tilly, said payment options and fees were "extensively" discussed with Mrs Wilkinson as Tilly needed hospitalisation and further treatment including IV fluids, pain relief and treatment for shock.

"Vets Now is a dedicated out of hours emergency and critical care provider and our treatment fees are representative of the high quality, out of hours treatment we provide," he added.

"Any out of hours emergency service will always come at a premium because of the expensive running costs.

"Our clinics are fully staffed and fully equipped every night and weekend so that we can be there for pet owners in an emergency, when other vets are closed.

"In return for the fees we charge, pets receive a high standard of round-the-clock care; our vets and nurses are awake and on duty all night, and this is reflected in our consistently high levels of client satisfaction."

Mrs Wilkinson said she will try to pay a small amount off the bill each month, adding that she had been touched by kindness of the Darlington firemen together with her carers who are also holding a collection for her.