Do France’s new pet owner ‘contracts’ have any actual weight?

We look at what this contract involves and what happens if it is incomplete, left unsigned or not respected

We look at France’s new pet ownership contracts and the punishments for failing to respect them
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Reader Question: I read about the new ‘contract’ for pet owners but what happens if people do not respect it? Has it any real worth?

Since October 1, anyone acquiring a pet in France – from a ferret to a rabbit, dog or cat – must sign a contrat d’engagement et de connaissance (contract of commitment and recognition).

From December 31, this will also apply to the owners of horses, donkeys and mules.

According to the SPA website, you only need to complete the contract if you have never had the species of pet you are acquiring before. So, for example, it states, if you have previously had a dog, adopting a new dog should not require you to sign the new contract.

However, the agriculture ministry states that all acquisitions require the contract to be signed without specifying that it depends on the species.

It is not clear how animal refuges or others, whether organisations or pet stores, would check if you have previously owned that species.

The change is the result of a 2021 law which aims to tackle the mistreatment of animals and educate owners about their responsibilities towards their pets.

Read more: France imposes new rules to stop rash pet purchases and avoid neglect

Each year, some 100,000 pets are abandoned in France, so the government is eager to put measures in place to deter people from buying or adopting animals on impulse.

The contract – containing information on the animal’s behavioural and physiological characteristics, associated costs and needs – should be provided by the animal’s previous owner, breeder, vet or animal rescue centre handler seven days before the new owner receives their pet. This allows for a cooling-off period to help prevent rash decisions.

The new owner must sign it and promise to respect the animal’s needs.

The contract must have been produced by someone who has taken a specific course relating to animals’ needs, in practice a vet, refuge worker, breeder etc. It should be specific to the animal species but does not have to be detailed with regard to a particular breed or animal.

You can find examples of the contracts – applying to different species – online by searching ‘contrat d’engagement et de connaissance exemple’ or similar. Some are found at the bottom of this SPA refuge page.

What happens if the contract is not signed?

If the contract is not given to the new owner to sign, or the owner does not sign it, the adoption or purchase should not take place.

A decree issued on October 26 states that if an animal is handed over without the certificate being signed the previous owner or handler risks a fine of €450.

The same applies if the contract does not contain all the necessary information about the animal’s needs.

The contracts apply where an animal is sold or even if it is a gift between members of the public.

What if the terms of the contract are not respected?

The decree only outlines the punishment to be applied to animal rescue centres, breeders, vets etc. who do not require new pet owners to sign a contract in its full form.

It does not outline any new sanctions for owners who do not follow it, although it is hoped the information it contains will be useful to them, and that it will help reinforce to them the serious responsibilities involved in pet ownership.

However, if a pet owner mistreats their animal serious sanctions are already provided for by law. Notably, someone who is found to have mistreated an animal – for example by depriving it of food and water or not tending to it when it is hurt – faces a €750 fine and could have the pet taken from them.

Abandoning an animal, meanwhile, is punishable by up to three years in prison and a €45,000 fine.

In addition, abandoning an animal in a situation in which the animal’s life is in danger is punishable by up to four years in prison and a €60,000 fine. If the abandonment led to the animal’s death, the person responsible risks up to five years’ prison and a €75,000 fine.

You can find out more about the different animal-related offences and punishments on the government website, which also explains how you can report mistreatment to the authorities.

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