HOW many lives does it take to save a cat? In the case of wandering moggy Archie it was three police officers, two Scottish SPCA staff and a couple of Holyrood MSPs.
The drama began after the 11-year-old cat strolled into a neighbour’s house – only for the family to go on holiday and inadvertently lock him inside.
After three days of worry, owner Shona McIntyre spotted her missing cat peering out of her neighbour’s kitchen window on Monday. Knowing he was without food and water – and unable to contact the owners – she called in animal welfare experts to get him back.
However, because her neighbours could not be contacted, it seemed unlawful for police or the Scottish SPCA to force their way in – leaving Archie in legal limbo.
Mrs McIntyre, 40, said: “[The neighbour] was abroad and we had no idea when she would be back – if we had known we could have waited and not had all this hassle. I was distraught. At 11, he’s an old cat and I thought he might die.
“My sister had to take control because she saw how distressed I was. She kept calm, and kept on at [the police and Scottish SPCA] because it seemed like no-one was ready to accept responsibility.”
Efforts to feed the cat through the letterbox failed and the only water the cat could drink came from the toilet bowl.
Fearing her cat would starve, Shona sent a pleading e-mail to Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill while her sister Shirley approached local MSP Malcolm Chisholm for help.
Five days after Archie went missing, police sought an entry warrant from the sheriff clerk’s office but were refused, apparently because it could not be authorised unless a crime had been committed.
However yesterday morning – day six of the drama – a locksmith working under the supervision of officers from the Scottish SPCA finally released Archie from captivity – at the behest of a phonecall from Holyrood, it has been claimed.
“I felt totally helpless,” said Shona. “I could not believe it when no one would take responsibility. I called the Justice Secretary because I felt the police’s hands were tied. He’s got a legal background and thought he could help.”
Shona said she was “almost positive” an MSP intervened to free Archie from the house – and legal red tape. “On Tuesday, the SSPCA were saying they could not to anything, then all of a sudden the next morning they said ‘get a locksmith’ and we will take the consequences.”
Her sister added: “The SSPCA said ‘we are breaking the rules’ but one of them said his boss had got the authority to break in if there were other officers as witnesses and that they had got a call from parliament.”
“In the end, we had three policemen, two parliamentarians and three people from the SSPCA helping to free Archie. The cost of all that because of certain legislation is just silly.”
“I think it has to change because they said there was a gap in legislation.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said he was not aware of any pressure from Holyrood. He added: “After receiving a report of a cat that had become trapped in a vacant property we assisted in the removal of the cat due to serious concerns for its welfare. Despite our best efforts we were unable to contact the owners of the property.”
Mr Chisholm said he was “surprised” that the warrant had not been granted, saying he believed it should have been under current legislation and vowed to take it up with the judiciary.
THE legal hurdles that prevented Archie from being rescued immediately arose because neither the police nor SSPCA officers could lawfully break into the vacant property without a warrant from a sheriff.
Mike Flynn, Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, said warrants could only be ordered where there was evidence of criminal activity. “The neighbour was not guilty of anything so the court cannot order a warrant,” he said. “Technically the neighbour could sue us when she comes back.”