France is to launch a new €20m action plan to combat animal abandonment, which has risen significantly this year in part due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the government has said.
Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie announced the new plan today (July 21), as figures show that animal abandonment in France rose by 14% in June, compared to June 2019.
Animal protection agency la Société protectrice des animaux (SPA) said that its shelters are almost at capacity and that it will “soon no longer be able to take in more animals”.
The new plan will aim to help the country’s 800 animal shelters tackle the growing issue by providing €20m to help enlarge shelters and offer more support to deal with the problem.
It will also harden sanctions against people who abandon animals in the wild. The crime will now be punished by a prison term of three years rather than two. The crime is also already punished by fines of up to €30,000.
A new awareness campaign will also be launched. This will include billboards displayed in motorway service stations, as it is estimated that 60% of animal abandonments every year happen in these sites.
The government is also set to require anyone who adopts an animal to read and accept a ‘charter’, which will include information on the time and money it takes to look after an animal, which will also require veterinary care and vaccinations.
The idea is to reduce impulse buys, which are the leading cause of animal abandonment, as owners purchase a pet without recognising the responsibilities, and financial and time commitments involved.
Shelters full to bursting
Claire Brissard, manager of a SPA centre in Hermeray (Yvelines), told FranceInfo: “When it comes to dogs, it’s starting to get seriously bad. With cats, it’s already catastrophic.”
The centre has rescued 115 more cats in 2021 compared to 2019. Cats are the most abandoned animal in France, and the problem has got worse since the Covid-19 confinements.
Ms Brissard said: “We have a lot of kittens. Owners used confinement to tell us: ‘I couldn’t get them neutered’. During confinement, animals kept people occupied, but then when they rediscovered their old lives, they forgot about the animals that had helped them.”
Rodents such as mice and hamsters have also seen an uptick in abandonment and shelter surrenders.
Sabine Lédéquerre, another SPA manager, said that staff have been going above and beyond to help take on new animals, especially those that are still too young to be placed in foster care or rehomed.
She said: “We have to make room; to knock down walls, to separate spaces, to be able to welcome new cats in the cattery. And since the beginning, I have had 10 kittens at home.”
France, champion of the world in abandonment
Animal abandonment has long been a problem in France.
A 2019 campaign by animal protection association la Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis highlighted that more than 100,000 pets are abandoned in France, the highest level in Europe.
The campaign used a ‘shock’ video with the hashtag #NonAlAbandon (No to Abandonment), featuring images it said its staff “see everyday” such as ordinary people leaving their animals by the side of the road, in boxes, tied up in fields, or simply throwing them away down rubbish chutes.
At the time, Reha Hutin, president of la Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis, told Connexion: “The hard truth is that 100,000 animals in France are dumped each year because people are unwilling to spend some time finding someone to look after their pet.
“It gets worse in summer as each year 60,000 pets are dumped, just so people can head off on holiday without a problem.”
The Ligue Protectrice des Animaux du Nord issued an alert about the problem in 2019, and in 2020 French MP Loïc Dombreval, MP of the Alpes-Maritimes and president of the animal welfare group Condition Animale, submitted a 300-page report of 120 recommendations to the government.
The report included recommendations on animal cruelty, impulse pet buys, and a new hotline telephone number that people can call if they see or suspect anyone of animal cruelty or mistreatment.
And in January this year, the French parliament debated the issue, ultimately voting through the idea of a "certificate of understanding" (attestation de connaissance) that informs new pet owners of their responsibilities, and which must be signed before purchase.
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