Pet buyers in France will now need to sign a “certificate of understanding” to ensure they are aware of the responsibilities of pet ownership, after the Assemblée nationale voted on a new animal mistreatment bill.
Owners will need to read and sign the certificate before they can purchase the pet and take it home.
The proposal was voted through by the Assemblée nationale yesterday.
It is one of the major measures suggested as part of a new bill against the mistreatment of animals, proposed by LREM MPs Loïc Dombreval and Laëtitia Romeiro Dias.
The exact contents of the certificate - dubbed a “certificat de connaissance” - will be decided by government decree. It is likely to state owners’ responsibilities towards the pet’s care, its food and exercise needs and the potential costs of food and veterinary care.
It will also be tailored to the “specific needs of the species”.
Anyone who buys a pet for the first time will need to sign it, and anyone who is selling a pet will also need to ensure that the future owners have signed. People buying a pet who already have a similar animal at home - for example, someone buying a second pet dog - will not need to sign again.
Minister for Agriculture Julien Denormandie, said that the certificate would aim to make would-be owners aware of what buying an animal really means, and avoid “impulsive buys”.
Yet, MPs did not vote through another proposal - the idea to require future owners to take a course on pet care, or to obtain a “licence” to have their pet at home.
As a result, Julien Aubert MP warned: “Watch out that this ‘certificate’ does not just become a symbolic piece of paper, or just another piece of paperwork.”
Currently, people selling pets do have responsibilities, in that they must obtain a veterinary certificate and a certificate of transfer (attestation de cession) but there is currently no certificate that ensures the ability of the future owner to care for the animal.
Also included in the bill were proposals to stop the online advertisement and sale of pets through non-specialist websites, but this was not voted through.
More education needed
Animal welfare campaigners have called for even more measures to protect pets.
Muriel Arnal, president of the animal welfare association One Voice, told news source 20 Minutes: “When people abandon an animal, it is because they have financial problems or they took on the animal reluctantly.
“We must improve education, and recommend that people leave their pets at a refuge if they feel overwhelmed, rather than abandoning it in the countryside.
“We must attack the causes of the problem, rather than the consequences. Once we’re seeing the consequences, it is too late. When someone abandons an animal, they rarely do it happily. It indicates that they have made a mistake, and now realise just how much work it represents.
“But the real question is how can we ensure that this realisation happens before or at the moment of purchase, and not at the moment of abandonment?”
Ms Arnal said that the cost of looking after an animal was not only financial, and that even well-off households need to be aware of the time, space, constraints and other responsibilities of taking care of a pet.
She said: “In France, we still believe the myth of a kitten that is given as a Christmas present, without thinking that we will then need to take care of it for the next 13 years. There is a real lack of education and a lack of understanding of the responsibility that an animal represents.”
Pet ownership in France
Pet ownership is popular in France - collectively, the public owns nine million pet dogs, 15 million cats, and one million horses and donkeys.
Yet, France also has the dubious honour of being the European country with the highest level of pet abandonment. More than 200,000 domestic animals - including 100,000 cats and dogs - are abandoned each year.
In 2019, the animal welfare charity Fondation 30 millions d’amis mounted a “shock campaign”, which used the Queen song We Are The Champions to darkly draw attention to France’s high level of animal abandonment.
But Ms Arnal said: “Instead of making adverts about abandonment, which don’t have much of an effect, we should do adverts on the responsibility of owning an animal. The financial cost, the number of hours per week of looking after it…
“We should also ban internet sales, and stop treating animals like objects. When you buy a pet like a pair of shoes, you are increasing the chances of a lack of understanding. In contrast, when you buy from a shelter or a [good] breeder, you have a long discussion before purchase.
“You meet the animal first, you talk about it, and this increases your perspective.”
Bullfighting not on the bill
Despite the new rules for domestic pets, the animal mistreatment bill has been criticised for not referencing other key priorities from animal welfare campaigners, including a ban on bullfighting.
Éric Pauget, MP for the Alpes-Maritimes, told the HuffPost that he was “shocked” and “did not understand this absence” in the bill, which did include references to other major issues such as the use of wild animals in circuses and intensive farming.
Mr Pauget said: “At no point did the text mention bullfighting.”
This is despite a recent poll by Ifop finding that 75% of people in France would be in favour of a ban.
This represents a rise of 25% since 2007, and a higher percentage than the number who are in favour of banning the use of wild animals in circuses.
Currently the law bans acts of cruelty towards animals “except bullfights when an uninterrupted local tradition can be proven”. As a result bullfighting still takes place in around 50 towns in France.
Mr Pauget said: “This shows that the government and most people do not want to even discuss the subject, even though we are talking about a practice of torturing animals in an arena. I do not understand this political calculation, because opinion polls are showing a real rise in awareness among the public.”
The MP also said that even Catalonia in Spain - the sport’s original country of origin - had banned bullfighting since 2010.
The subject is still controversial in France, with Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti an outspoken supporter of the practice - which is often seen as culturally important and “noble”, despite its detractors.
In 2019, Mr Dupond-Moretti wrote an open letter - which was signed by a number of high-profile figures - titled: “Bullfighting in an art, and no-one should be denied it.”
However, those charged with bringing the text to parliament sought to explain why the bill did not contain references to the controversial sport, saying that its inclusion could have threatened the entire bill.
Aurore Bergé, MP for Yvelines and president of LREM, told FranceInfo: “We need a consensus to make a proposal law.”
Loïc Dombreval, co-presenter of the bill, told L'Opinion: "Unfortunately, the subject of the animal becomes very passionate and irrational.
“If we add hunting, bullfighting and breeding to the debates, we will not see eye to eye, we would simply yell at each other, and in the end nothing would change. The bill is limited, yes. But a good law is a law that is voted through.”