Animal welfare charities are investigating complaints from the public over concerns that an organised group of beggars with drugged kittens may be operating in the Scottish capital.
The Scottish SPCA is monitoring Princes Street after receiving information that a number of men have been seen begging with kittens and older cats which “look like they are on drugs” outside shops.
The charity confirmed its inspectors had been watching the street for several months because of concerns about the cats’ welfare, although it would not comment on fears that the animals had been sedated to prevent them running away.
However, another welfare group, Scotland for Animals, said the unusually “dopey” appearance and behaviour of the cats suggested that they had been drugged.
Both charities have been in contact with the police who charged two men this week in connection with the complaints after conducting their own investigation.
Scotland for Animals spokesman John Patrick said: “We have had an overwhelming number of members of the public contacting us and asking for the police to investigate.
“In my opinion, and in that of others, the cats look drugged and in a state of distress. A cat would not normally sit on someone’s knee like that and they are also in a noisy environment.”
The men were reported to have been seen in the west end of Princes Street, often outside the House of Fraser store.
One member of staff at the department store, who did not want to be named, told The Scotsman a kitten she saw appeared drugged.
She said: “It was tiny and it could hardly open its eyes.”
Another worker at the store added: “I saw one man with a cat which seemed to be well-looked after but then later I saw quite a young guy on the street begging with a kitten. I couldn’t say if it was drugged or not, but I wanted to confiscate it from him because it looked far too young to be away from its mum. I think he had it to get sympathy from people so they would give him money.”
At Zara, staff also voiced concerns after seeing people with cats begging outside the store.
One worker said: “I’ve seen a man begging with a cat outside here since the spring. The cat seems like it’s being looked after but he was here when it was scorching hot, too, and I don’t think the cat would have liked that.
“Lots of cat owners have said to me that a cat or kitten would not sit on someone’s lap like that for so long – it seems odd. I think that’s why people think it was drugged.
“The street is noisy and a lot of strange people were coming to pat the cat too, which I’m sure it wouldn’t like, either.”
Homeless man David Thompson, 57, who was begging on the street with his dog, said: “I’ve seen a couple of men with cats and one seemed to have a different kitten every week.
“I thought there was something strange about the kittens – they looked dopey and I was worried about them. Dogs are companion animals, cats are not.”