A well-known Edinburgh cat, taken to the hearts of residents of the city’s West End, is at the center of calls to change the law.
Hugo, an Arabian mau, was beloved on the cobbled streets of the upmarket shopping area and, despite having a devoted owner, was attended to by hundreds of locals.
The tabby died last week after he was struck by a car that didn’t stop.
His death has inspired a campaign to make reporting such an incident into law.
Motorists are required to notify the police when they collide with dogs, horses, sheep, pigs, cows and goats and notify a veterinarian or the SSPCA, but not cats.
Foxes and badgers also fall into this category.
Hugo was injured in a nearby garden and only a local who recognized him saved him from dying right there.
The cat’s owner, Jane Rutherford, said: “He was a big wanderer, always crossing paths. He crossed that path for four years.”
Hugo was discovered by a friendly neighbor in Palmerston Place, who immediately took him to the vet, then called Mrs Rutherford.
She added: “We were lucky because everyone knows him. I ran to the vet and he got a little better overnight, but the prognosis was not good.”
“I took him home and finally had to make the decision to let him go.
“He wouldn’t have had the life he loved and he would have been miserable.”
When Ms Rutherford posted the bad news on the Facebook page of local residents, she was inundated with tributes and stories about her cat.
“Everybody knew him,” he told BBC Scotland. “There were so many messages, more than 400.”
People shared stories of Hugo showing up at their houses, stopping by for snacks, and even napping in their beds. When Ms. Rutherford wanted to know where she was, she would ask on the local Facebook group and someone would tell her where he was last seen.
And at Christmas, local shops would give discounts to people who could name the famous West End cat.
And the locals are campaigning for “Hugo’s Law” to change the law on detaining animals.
‘A cat is no less valuable than a dog’
Mrs Rutherford thinks it would be a fitting bequest.
She said: “A cat is no less valuable than a dog. We don’t know how long it was there, ten minutes or an hour, in pain. I’d love to see that change so other pets aren’t ruled out.”
Hugo was originally a rescue cat that Mrs. Rutherford adopted from Doha, Qatar. They lived in Abu Dhabi and then Spain before settling in Edinburgh a decade ago.
She said she already missed him.
Mrs Rutherford added: “Not so much at home as he was always out. But like today when I walked down William Street I was sad as I was hoping to see him there.”
The Public Petitions Committee debated making hitting a cat a reportable incident in Westminster in January, gaining cross-party support.
The potential legislation is likely to be linked to new laws ensuring all cats are microchipped, due to come into force in June 2024. Scotland is expected to adopt this legislation as well.
A spokeswoman for Cats Matter, a charity that wants to see legal briefings for cats, said: “It simply cannot be right that in 2023 people can hit cats when they drive and drive away, leaving them alone, in pain and struggling to their lives.
“Unfortunately, accidents will always happen, but we must not accept that it is legally okay to leave the scene.
“England will bring mandatory microchipping next year, and we have been urging the Scottish government to do the same.
“Mandatory reporting should then be considered, as there is no excuse why cats cannot be identified once reported.”
‘Cats deserve a chance at survival’
He urged people to always do the right thing if it happened to them.
The spokeswoman added: “The cats deserve a chance at survival, and their families feel very comfortable knowing that at least everything possible has been done.”
The Department of Transportation said that having a law requiring drivers to report traffic accidents involving cats would be very difficult to enforce.
A spokesman said: “We have reservations about the difference it would make to the behavior of drivers who know they have run over a cat and do not report it.”