WATERLOO, Iowa -- In the war between cats and dogs, score one for the cats. Stray cats who distracted a drug-sniffing police dog have helped a man beat drug charges.

Officers had a tip from a confidential informant that drugs were stored in a vehicle about one block from the home of Kirk Sallis, 47.

Police found the car July 25, 2003, and sent for the drug dog. But the canine was distracted by cats in the area, records state, and it wasn't able to complete the job of sniffing for drugs.

Meantime, Sallis came over to the vehicle and declined to allow police to search it themselves.

Police called a wrecker and towed the vehicle to the police station for further inspection. The dog indicated drugs were in the car, and police obtained a search warrant. A search of the car turned up cocaine.

But Judge Stephen Clarke ruled this week that police didn't have any other reason to impound the car and should have applied for a search warrant before it was towed.