A leading animal charity in France has appealed to people to stop abandoning their pets ahead of the summer break in a shock campaign. But a report on animal welfare handed to the Prime Minister on Tuesday suggests animal rights are finally being taken more seriously.
In France, the death penalty no longer exists, except for the innocent!” That’s the slogan used by the animal charity 30 Million d’Amis in its latest campaign #nonalabandon (no to abandonment) aimed at stopping people dumping their pets in the run-up to the summer holiday period.
More than half of French households have a pet, but every summer tens of thousands are abandoned to shelters.
The video campaign shows ordinary people leaving their cats and dogs by the side of the road, in boxes, tied up in fields or dumping them in the bin. They sing along to Queen's We are the Champions, an ironic reference to France’s record as leader in Europe when it comes to abandoning their pets.
"What we are showing is real life,” Réha Hutin, the foundation’s president, said as the campaign was launched last week.
According to the SPA (Society for the protection of animals) more than 100,000 dogs and cats are abandoned in France each year, with as many as 60,000 during the summer vacation. It estimates the rate of animal abandonment increased by 28 percent in 2019, a record in Europe.
Many of the abandoned animals end up in refuges where "one cat out of five is put to death,” Hutin, whose charity helps some 200 refuges, told France Info.
Figures pulled out of a hat
“Making the public aware of what’s happening via these shock campaigns is useful,” said Stéphane Lamart, founder of the eponymous animal rights association.
But he believes the figures could well be much higher.
“I’m 38 and since the age of 10 I’ve been hearing that 100,000 animals are abandoned each year in France, 60,000 during the summer. There are probably a lot more," he told RFI. "We just don’t know, the figures were pulled out of a hat.”
The animal rights activist reckons getting more accurate statistics is the first step in reducing the number of abandoned animals and has long campaigned for data to be gathered as it is for road safety, enabling the government to adapt its policies accordingly.
“Every year we gather data on the number of road deaths and depending whether they go up or down, the government puts more radars, police and son. Why can’t we do the same thing with animals?”
Lamart explained that since refuges, associations and pounds all have to be officially declared with the préfecture, they should be called on to complete an annual questionnaire.
"The data collected would allow us to count how many animals are in refuges, how many abandoned, put down, sold, adopted, and how many returned to their owners.”
Animal rights move up on the agenda
Lamart's proposal was one of several key measures included in a 300-page report presented by the National Assembly’s “animal welfare” commission to the government on Tuesday.
Other proposed measures include setting up a free telephone line for people to report cases of animal cruelty and a ban on the sale of animals in pet shops, fairs and online. Animal adoptions would be handled only by pet charities and professional breeders while stray cats would be sterilised.
It also advocated increasing penalties for abandoning an animal from the potential two-year prison sentence and a fine of €20,000 to three years and a €30,000 fine.
As it stands those penalties “are never applied” said Hutin. “Fines for parking your car in the wrong place are heavier than for abandoning your pet,” she told France Info. "We are civil party to more than 100 cases of animal cruelty every year and the fines are pathetic."
30 million d’amis has set up a website, Vacances Entre Amis (Holidays with Friends) to help people find someone willing to look after their pet temporarily. Its smartphone app, 30 millions d’amis vacances, lists a growing number of pet-friendly holiday locations.