Every year, countless pets are kicked out in the street. Are the French indifferent about their furry companions? And are you interested in one of our featured adoption candidates?

It seems you can no longer open a newspaper or browse your social media accounts without stumbling over one horror story after another about animal abuse in France. But come summertime, like clockwork, cases of pet abandonment peak… to the point where national animal protection organizations like SPA, Fondation Brigitte Bardot or 30 Millions d’Amis ring the alarm bells as early as spring, publishing awareness campaigns and videos with heart-wrenching tales of puppies and kittens left to their own device. But 2020 is on a path to beat every record in the books.

What’s the Lay of the Land?

First things first: we do not want to generalize. There are millions of loving and responsible French pet owners who wouldn’t dream of ever giving up their four-legged family member. And there are countless organizations, public figures, and volunteers who take on the Herculean task of saving as many little lives as possible. But we are talking about the bad apples who tie a puppy to a lamp post, throw a litter of kittens in the trash, or leave Mr. Fluffybuns to his own devices in the city park without sparing this living being another thought. And sadly, there are many, many, many of them… too many.

The French have a particularly dismal track record, willfully abandoning far more pets than any other European nation. But if previous years have regularly seen upward of 100,000 abandoned pets – with 60% of those cases in the summer months – 2020 has already exceeded the annual average in the first seven months alone. Statistically, every three minutes one animal loses its roof over its head, according to an info provided by Fondation Brigitte Bardot. In comparison, the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) records “only” 16,000 abandoned pets per year.

While the vast majority of abandoned animals are cats and dogs, plenty of others, from rabbits to turtles and those grouped under “exotic pets” (reptiles, rats, etc.) are also concerned. There is also a new trend to adopt a “fashionable” farm animal like miniature horses and pigs, only to send them packing again shortly thereafter because they outgrew an urban apartment or their baby cuteness. Farm animal shelters and sanctuaries like La Garie routinely pick up such stranded creatures.

Turtle by Patti Black

Why is the Rate of Animal Abandonment so high in France?

Although there is an administrative distinction between “orderly abandonment” (at a shelter or animal welfare association) and discarding a helpless animal in a public spot, the statistics don’t differentiate – it’s abandonment, full stop. Apart from the classic excuses behind the shameful deed (impulse buy, allergies, new baby or partner, divorce, the puppy or kitten grows into adulthood, the pet is getting “too old”…) several interlinked reasons stand out as contributing factors to this year’s especially high number – and yes, blame it on Covid:

For one, once word was out that the novel coronavirus had been transmitted from an animal to a human host, mass hysteria struck. Instead of listening to rational arguments put forth by scientists, a lot of people panicked and immediately flooded shelters with their entirely innocent pets. This coincided with the strict seven week lockdown from March through May – smack in the middle of mating season – when animal welfare organizations were prevented from doing their usual trap/neuter/release (TNR) programmes for the feral cat and dog population. This has led to a much higher reproduction rate than usual. Juggling at the fringe of the government’s orders to stay home, volunteers valiantly fought to rescue as many babies as possible, and sending them to already overcrowded shelters was the smaller evil to letting them perish in empty streets.

Shelters then sought to make room for these newcomers by trying to “clear out” other residents in “adoption drives”. The idea to adopt a feline or canine friend appealed to many people locked down in isolation. But even these efforts were largely hampered by the French government’s strict lockdown rules. Potential adopters could not just wander around a facility and meet an animal to assess whether it was a good fit, but rather had to pick one online based on a photo and a short description.

But this was not the right time to play to emotions: adopting a pet means making a lifelong commitment instead of a snap decision. They require work, time, energy, and a substantial monthly budget. Puppies need to be trained, and kittens have to be properly socialized. All family members must be on board, and any potential hurdles such as allergies ruled out beforehand. A plan needs to be in place what to do with the furry family member during vacation or professional absence.

Still, quite a few shelter pet were adopted. But once lockdown was lifted, many people realized they were not willing or able to make that investment into their new housemate. If Rocky or Minette were “lucky”, they went back to the shelter. If not, they joined the street brigade…And that sad fate does not just happen to pets adopted from a shelter or privately…even those bought from breeders at a substantial price tag sometimes fare no better.

And finally, Covid has cost many lives, and while not every victim had owned a pet, and not every pet automatically lost its home after its human friend passed away. But according to several associations’ best guesstimates, around 3,000 to 4,000 animals did wind up in shelters or outside for that reason.

Cat and dog Glomad Marketing

There are other, Covid-unrelated, reasons that increasingly worsen the problem of pet homelessness:

One of those factors is found in the ever-increasing number of senior citizens having to move to assisted living-residences and care facilities where their beloved pet is not allowed to join them. While their younger family members won’t turn down the prospective inheritance, they rarely take Mom’s doggie or Grandpa’s kitty. These once-cherished and pampered animals, often not very young themselves, then share the sordid fate of so many of their conspecifics… whether locked forever in a box at a no-kill shelter, the sword of Damocles in the form of euthanasia looming over it at a do-kill-shelter, or a dismal life in the street. The vast majority of animals abandoned in the street does not survive for very long, lacking the skills to find food and shelter, and defend themselves.

Finances are a big culprit, too. Owning an animal goes well beyond feeding it kitchen scraps. Only a balanced high-quality diet, regular vet check-ups, keeping shots current, and mending smaller health problems early on ensure that a pet enjoys a long and healthy life. Once bigger issues creep up, vet bills get steep quickly, posing an unexpected problem to many. This is especially true for purebred animals who more often than not suffer from a string of chronic and/or congenital health issues due to overbreeding. After suddenly facing expenses to the tune of hundreds, even thousands of euros, many owners take the unfortunate decision to leave the poor thing fend for itself. This is often the case among the younger, less affluent population, or those who suddenly face economic problems.

And finally, unlike in Anglo-Saxons countries where paid live-in or peek-in petsitters during the owners’ absence are absolutely normal, the French have simply never warmly taken to the concept. They are also reluctant to handing their pet over to a boarding house or kennel. Whether it is reluctance to let a stranger into one’s home or to absorb the additional cost, the problem is ultimately borne out on the back of the animal who loses its home over it.

What does the Law say?

While the French law recognizes animals as sentient beings, the average population considers them “objects”. Remember, this is the country where hunting constitutes “cultural patrimony”, where songbirds are caught in glue traps, and where wildlife species suffer atrociously painful deaths in maiming snares, all with the government’s blessing.

A law passed in 2012 does require domestic cats, dogs and exotic pets to be either tattooed or microchipped but by far not all pet owners are responsible enough to actually have it done, and the law, like so many others in France, is not enforced. While the primary reason behind ID’ing a pet is to find its owners in case it had gone lost, it also means that the ID could show who abandoned it.

Technically, abandonment is punishable with up to two years of prison or a €30,000 fine. But with so few animals ID’ed, it is nearly impossible to trace the reckless owner. Even if a pet is marked, it regularly happens that its tattoed ear is amateurishly cut off, or the microchip is cut out from under the skin before the poor thing is kicked out. And once an animal has no ID, it has, by law, no owner. Wound care? Answer that one for yourself.

At the same time, French law, and its enforcement, is notoriously lax when it comes to animal abuse. Few cases are even brought to the court as most neighbors turn a blind eye to known abuse but those delinquents who are tried, are usually left off with a gentle slap on the wrist and a modest fin rather than jail time. Even wildlife that falls under protected status, like seagulls, can be injured, hunted, and killed without impunity, and no one – neither the police nor animal welfare agencies – will intervene with real conviction. Only high-profile cases along the lines of “65 cats found in a hoarder’s house will ever make it to court, and even there, chances are that the abuser gets off lightly, just with a verbal warning, a mild fine, or probation.

The raison d’être of animal welfare associations – who do not have shelters but work with foster families – is mostly to provide street colonies of cats and dogs with food and basic veterinarian care, including sterilization. But if they have always had to stretch their resources, they are now at a point where the coffers and shelves are really, truly empty. With economy being hit so hard by Covid, there is simply very little money to go around. Municipalities help to a minimal extent but it’s really just a drop in the bucket. Every now and then, there is a rare goodwill vet (“veto du Cœur”), like the recently retired Dr. Yves Firmin in Le Cannet, who used to frequently waive the bill for a street animal in need. But these generous souls are few and far between, and getting fewer by the day.

While street cats are fed by volunteers to the extent possible, it is hard to prevent the spread of communicable diseases among them. Viruses like calicivirus, for instance, are easily transmitted through shared food bowls or bite wounds received in territorial fights. If an animal from such a colony can be singled out for a potential adoption because it is young, cute, or especially endearing but has that type of chronic health problems, their chances of finding a new home are instantly reduced. Also, sick and injured homeless animals can represent a public health hazard… It has come to a true Catch 22.

How You Can Help

If after careful consideration you do want to bring a furry friend home, remember to “adopt, not shop”. You will save two lives in one go – that of your new companion, and the one that can be taken into the vacated spot. Besides, the back-alley kitties and mongrel puppies from the shelter are typically much more robust, thanks to their more varied gene pool, and they reward your hospitality with incredible gratitude. And do consider an older or handicapped animal. They may not be magazine cover material but they have so much love to give.

If you love animals but cannot adopt responsibly, consider becoming a volunteer with one of the many animal welfare associations anywhere. Help is needed in so many areas: feed colonies, be part of rescue actions, conduct pre- and post-adoption wellbeing inquiries, help out at the shelter, foster an animal at home, donate supplies or money to the association of your choice…

It goes without saying that a pet adoption should be carefully considered even before ever committing to it. But you absolutely have no other choice than to separate from your furry friend, do not abandon your pet in the street or in the countryside but take it to the nearest no-kill shelter. A temporary stay there at least gives it a well-deserved second chance. You won’t be judged for your reasons – on the contrary, rescuers appreciate that you do the right thing, given the circumstances.

Three Especially Deserving Candidates for Adoption

With hundreds of thousands of homeless animals in France alone, it seems unfair to highlight only three. But sadly, we are limited here, so we had to pick three representative cases that deserve an extra bit of TLC and a new lease on life after a truly miserable life before. Meet Tony the Cat, Freya the Hound Dog, and Ganache the Mare… (and if you are interested in other potential adoptees, go to one of the many sites on Facebook or elsewhere. Again, “adopt, don’t shop”…)

Tony: From Homeless Bum to Lap Purr World Champion

Tony courtesy by Natja Igney

Tony is a middle-aged dilute tabby with a bit of fluffy Norwegian in the mix. He was taken into his current foster home in November 2019 after living in the streets of Cannes for years, unloved, unwanted, and unclaimed (although based on his impeccable house manners, he must have lived with a human family earlier in his life.) He is a pretty big-boned cat but weighed in at only 2.9 kg at the time. After going through the full vet programme (neutered, dewormed, microchipped, vaccinated) he soon turned into the purr-fect, sweetest, most loving lap kitty imaginable, now topping the scales at a healthy 5.3 kg. This gentle little guy loves nothing better than snuggling in your arms, getting brushed, or playing with his feather toys. Sadly, a nasty neighbour recently targeted him with a slingshot. After surgery to remove two 4 mm marbles from his chest and tail, he currently sports a Mohawk which will hopefully fill in again. But he is still the most handsome and lovable cat around anyway!

Tony is extremely easy-going, gets on perfectly well with other cats, dogs, and even birds, and is playful like a kitten. He is patient with young kids but he really prefers a calm and quiet environment to lots of action and noise. His dream: a responsible, mature single person or couple living in a home with a garden or a secured patio. He loves his walkabouts in nature but never ventures far. He has an absolutely flawless character, no bad habits at all. He will let you sleep in, is impeccably clean, never begs at the table, has yet to break a thing, and has not once pulled out his claws. His favorite thing to do is to purr you to sleep at night with his head resting on your shoulder. And he is now even the proud owner of a pet passport in case someone from outside France wishes to adopt him.

The one moderate caveat: Tony’s miserable years in the street left him FIV+, meaning his immune system is compromised. His condition is well-controlled and is not currently manifesting except for an occasional flare-up of gingivitis for which he simply requires a monthly maintenance shot at the vet’s. This is quick and inexpensive. While there is no current worry about his kidney function, male cats are generally prone to urinary tract problems, so he is preemptively fed high-quality, kidney-friendly kibble. With regular check-ups, he can live a full and happy life with a normal life expectancy. FIV+ is not contagious for humans or other species, and is not usually transmitted to other cats in the same household or neighbourhood (it typically occurs either at birth by an infected mother, or when bitten by a carrier.)

If interested in adopting TONY, email his foster mama directly to establish contact.

Freya: Just Learning how to Dog

Sweet 5 year old Freya had an extremely rough start in life, being mentally and physically abused, locked up, and malnourished by the hunter she lived with. She was also forced to produce litter after litter. After being rescued and undergoing the standard vet care, including spay, ID, and vaccinations, she is currently recovering from her trauma in her foster family, learning all the ropes a 6 month old puppy should know. She is slowly overcoming her fear of strangers, noises, and sudden movements, and makes rapid progress, but lots of patience and training is still required.

Freya needs a loving, gentle, and reassuring home and a person with experience in the care and re-education of traumatized dogs. She is still learning to walk on a leash but crowds frighten her, and she would do much better in a rural home with a garden. A couple of young retirees with an active lifestyle would be ideal. She hasn’t yet learned how to play and fetch ball but with love and patience, it won’t be long until she gets there. And it would be absolutely perfect if there were a non-dominant gentle canine brother or sister who could teach her some of the tricks of the dog trade. Freya currently lives with her foster family in St. Laurent du Var who say that she is a true gem for the right home that knows how to train and love her. (If interested, see contact info further below)

Ganache: Gentleness per-horse-ified

Named after a French sweet treat, Ganache truly does her name justice. And yet, her 22 years have been filled with hardships and neglect. Bumped from one shepherd to another, her last owner planned on leaving the region on horseback but without taking Ganache because she was limping and he didn’t want to be slowed down by her… She was found abandoned, tied to a tree in the Sospel forest probably so that she wouldn’t follow him. After a full health makeover at the vet, dentist, and podiatrist, she is feeling much better, and a few future osteopath treatments will relieve her from the residual pain that her life of misery has inflicted on her.

Ganache is looking for a loving retirement home anywhere in PACA… all she is asking for is a meadow underfoot to feed and frolic, a roof over her head for shelter, and a human friend. Because, surprisingly, she still loves humans after all. Curious, playful, and easygoing, she can live alone or in the company of other horses, and even sheep and dogs. She can, however, not be ridden – not just because of her arthritis but because she was never broken in… Her future family can visit her in the hills of Nice, and will find out that Ganache is all the kindness of the world embodied in one beautiful mare…

To learn more about FREYA or GANACHE, or to arrange a visit, contact local animal welfare association Rien Que Pour Eux by email or call Laurie (president) at 06 59 13 70 61 or Marie (vice president) at 06 99 42 73 58.

In a world that is at a turning point in its course of history, be part of the solution and choose a better future for all beings on this planet. Choose to respect and practice kindness to fellow creatures on two and four legs. Teach the children in your life to do the same. And be the one an animal can trust to be there for him or her, come what may. Your furry friend will be grateful forever.

I think animals help us live; they’ve helped me live. It was only when I began to devote myself to protecting animals that I blossomed completely. Taking care of them, looking out for them, has given my life true meaning, a meaning I hope future generations can experience.” — Brigitte Bardot, French actress and animal activist


another grey line

Lead image by S.Ratanak on Unsplash; photo of turtle by Patti Black on Unsplash; photo of cat and dog by Glomad Marketing on Unsplash; photo of Tony the Cat courtesy Natja Igney

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