Pets abandoned in their thousands: the dark side of summer in France

You know it’s summer here in France when a) the France 24 newsroom gradually begins to empty, b) the train home is packed with sleepy tourists on their way back from Versailles and c) French animal welfare organisations are desperately trying to dissuade people from abandoning their pets.


According to the animal welfare group 30 millions d’amis (30 million [furry] friends), no less than 60,000 pets are abandoned in France every year during the summer holidays. The Paris-based Société Protectrice des Animaux (Animal Protection Society), which runs shelters nationwide, reckons the figure is even higher: a whopping 100,000 animals abandoned by their owners.


I spoke to Marion Giroud of the Confédération Nationale des SPA de France, which federates its own network of animal shelters nationwide. “People don’t think about the constraints” when they buy a pet, she told me in a telephone interview. Although going on holiday would appear to be a pretty obvious one, it only seems to dawn on some pet owners when it’s already too late. Seemingly unable to find a kennel, a pet-sitter or to take their pet with them, they then choose to abandon said pet rather than miss out on their vacation. “Some of them phone us up just before their holiday, saying that all the kennels are full”, Giroud explains. Although she acknowledges that there are not enough kennels and catteries in France, she points out that pet-sitting services offered by individuals are now easy to find online (one such website is Tendea).


A Samoyed dog. Every year, as many as 100,000 pets are abandoned in France. © Caroline Clarkson


The shocking figure of 100,000 abandonments covers two types of situation: those pets handed over to a shelter by their owners, plus those animals which are unceremoniously dumped and later found. That’s right: not all owners go to the trouble of tracking down a shelter for their former furry friend. “We find cats with their ears cut so that they can’t be traced by their earmark, dogs tied to trees, and indoor cats dumped in the countryside”, Reha Hutin, the head of 30 millions d’amis, told the website of free newspaper 20 Minutes. Hutin adds that these days, even small animals such as gerbils and hamsters are being abandoned.


Let’s try to compare these figures with those for the UK, for example. Last year, the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), received 28,000 calls from the public about abandoned animals. But this figure does not take into account those pets handed over to shelters by their owners. This is because the RSPCA takes in animals it has rescued; it does not take in unwanted animals like a typical shelter.


Like I say, abandonment is such a problem here in France that animal welfare groups run public awareness campaigns every summer. This year, 30 millions d’amis has chosen the tagline “An animal doesn’t cry.... It suffers in silence", as shown just below.


This year's campaign poster by 30 millions d’amis.


So why are the figures still so high despite all these years of campaigning? To try to understand the reasons for abandonment, 30 millions d’amis carried out a survey of shelters back in 2008. The results are enlightening: 9 out of 10 dogs abandoned are large dogs, two thirds of all animals abandoned are adults, and 7 out of 10 dogs abandoned are mongrels. All of which tends to suggest that too many people are (still) falling for that cute puppy or kitten in the window, without thinking ahead about how to care for it.


Marion Giroud confirms this impression. “We live in a consumer society and a pet is often an impulse buy”, she says. “It even happens that people who have just bought a pedigree animal - at considerable cost - abandon it at a shelter a few days later, having realised they cannot look after it”. Giroud also points out that in Germany, where there are fewer abandonments, dog owners have to pay a tax, which may well be helping to reduce impulse buying.


This year's campaign poster by the Confédération Nationale des SPA de France. The slogan reads "[In] 2012, there are still some [people] who abandon".


Despite the depressingly high figures, Giroud claims the annual campaigns have at least convinced more owners to sign their pet over to a shelter, rather than abandon it in the street. This is small comfort, surely, so what more can be done? Giroud calls for two things:


• “Support at the political level” in France. This means changing the legal status of animals (currently, an animal has the status of personal property, not that of a living being). This change is a long-standing demand of French animal welfare groups.

• Tighter regulation of pet shops, and of online pet adverts.


But evidently, more French pet owners still need to understand the basic message behind that simple but effective slogan: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. The tagline, coined by the UK's Dogs Trust back in 1978, appears as relevant as ever.

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Hi Ana, sorry but I only just saw your comments. Yes you can use the image but please credit it to 30 millions d’amis. Thx, CC
Hello, I would like to know if you received my two last requests regarding to the use of the image available on your website: As informed earlier, I work at the iconography department of Yan Imagens, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and we're producing for Moderna Publisher a didactic book called "Voices" in which the editors would like to use the image above. Unfortunately, our deadline to insert this image is near the end. Please let us know in case you cannot help us. Thanks in advance. Ana
These souls have feelings..a heart that feels abandonment..knows the darkness of not being loved..being left to starve .. They give true unconditional love, kindness and compassion. For a human soul to toss away an innocent breathing life without concern..speaks volumns about their spirit of selfishness.
Caroline - you are in the ideal position to raise this issue right into the noses of the French government. The appalling Chasse which maltreats and then abandons dogs by the hundred in grotesque ways - on top of the appalling treatment of other dog owners in France. A tax, a licence, enforced by the Gendarmerie has to be implemented. The Chasse has to be forced to be accountable for their dogs (a bit like asking the American government to deal with the USA gun lobby) and licensed in the same way as they are licensed to own a gun. Unless we take this to the very top, make it embarrassingly public, it remains a problem dealt with by ordinary folks - like me helping out at a Refuge and trying to get dogs adopted, and fostering dogs, which merely solves the problem for appalling, mindless pet owners and the Chasse. Please use your position as a journalist and your clout, to get this made embarrassingly public. please.
Is anyone really surprised?

Pets are the most important of our family. People are more interested in having more number of pets. But we should be careful on this day if we have a pet with us. We should definitely take some precautionary measures to avoid our pet’s day to be worse. We should take care of their food habits, we should provide only with those food which are been directed by the animal doctor. The above information is extremely helpful and informative.

This heartbreaking situation is too common in every country. I live in the United States in a sparsely populated rural area. People too frequently abandon their pets in my vicinity apparently thinking that the abandoned ones will be able to care for themselves in an area that is heavily forested. These animals come to my door not just because they are hungry but with broken hearts that the humans they have loved could toss them aside without conscience. The pleading in their eyes is painful to see but the joy they display when I invite them in rewards me beyond words to describe.

i can't imagine how one can abandon their pet! it is one of the most terrible things to do, once we take them home, we are responsible for them

I am truly shocked by this article. Having a French mother, we went to France quite often to visit family over the past 20 years. It was always a pleasure to see dogs sitting at cafes with their owners, well fed cats roaming through the village. All this cruelty was behind the curtain. I must say that in the States, we do a better job with abandoned animals. In every town, there are private, non-profit organizations who rescue all types of animals. I bought my two cats from an organization that resuces cats from a "kill shelter" in North Carolina. It's called a kill shelter because they are overwhelmed and have to dispose of some of the animals. I live near Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. We have an organization that manages the feral cats in the Park. We capture them, neuter them and release them if they cannot be rehabilitated. There are several of us who have feeding stations and we feed them every day. It does take a volunteer spirit and dedication to have local shelters. Volunteerism isn't a strong point with the French.

Thanks for all the comments. I am just back from the south of France where I was glad to see some pets on holiday with their owners... RML, have you found a place for the kitten? 30 millions d'amis is not a shelter, I think you are best to try the SPA on 01 43 80 40 66 or Les SPA de France on 04 78 38 71 85. Hope that helps. Caroline Clarkson

These people are Selfish. A pet is a member of a family, not a prestige thing to walk around with and be noticed. This is very sad. Asians will eat your cats.Those who abonden there animals are animals themselves.The country of L'Amour has dropped some admiration in my opinion. Make sure your next Pate isnt dog meat. That would serve your superficial selves well.

The French are perhaps the most uncivilised of people. They have no respectfor anyone, let alone pets. It is a country of louts without any moral compass

Easy to solve it. Prohibit breeders. No more reproduction of animals in France or elsewhere. Humans are worse than animals. If people are capable of treating their pets like this, I wonder what they do to their own "human" children.

That's nothing! In the USA we abandon about 14 million pets each year - 75% of which are put to death! Stop buying at puppy farms & rescue an animal instead!

France, the land of passion and romance. But, for a pet it becomes the hell of damnation. Where are the parents of these senseless pet owners? Do not the parents teach their offspring earlier in life that actions recreate reactions? You teach your children to act with morally accountable and odds are they become closely related to the French whom do not abandon their pets. Life is short. Think before you adopt a pet.Besides, a pet would be surely more happy if their adopter were not an abandoner too. My two pets were given to me cause their owners were moronic to have owned a pet.Hard to raise a family when you can not even become accountable to raise a pet. Good comments about the French being known as the Chinese of Europe. So true!
It is heart breaking to learn that so many animals are abandoned in France. But, are some of these Associations like 30 Millions d'Amis or Refuge SPA de Chamarande receiving many of these animals? They are receiving donations, but the service seemed to be wanting. For example, I'm trying to contact someone in these Associations as a friend found an abandoned kitten and does not know where to place the poor thing as he is cannot keep the kitten . Where are the thousands of animals kept?. Can this little kitten find a place? RML
A terrible disgrace,but it does happen here year after year,I'm sure it also happens in other countries only solution seems to micro chip all domestic pets and then take action against those who abandon their pets.I've a cat now over 18 years of age she's just been with us down to Camaret sur Mer for 2 weeks even taken her to Spain and when necessary had an animal lodge look after her.
I am profoundly upset by this article; I wasn't aware that the situation was that bad in my native country. I've been living in England for the past 14 years now and animals being abandoned are also a big issue but probably less than in France from what this article suggests. I volunteer for a local cat shelter and our pens always get full in the summer season with animals on a waiting list to get in! It's truly sickening! My husband and I have adopted many cats who had been abandoned by their owners; we found some in woods, starved, dehydrated, injured with only days to live some had been left roaming on supermarkets' car parks, wandering between cars, crying at each passer-by begging for food and attention, some came into our house, hungry, desperate for a new home...It's truly heart-breaking! We've now got 10 cats and 2 rabbits who give us unconditional love and devotion and just can't understand how people can be so selfish and callous as to give them up just to go on holiday. We are responsible owners, never go away without ensuring that our pets will be looked after by a pet-sitter during our absence. I think that Germany's got it right on this instance to make people more accountable for their pets. Animals are "sentient beings" not "objects" and I am appalled by how old and out-of-date French law is to regard them just as "property"! this is scandalous! It's also alarming to hear of people going as far as cutting off their cats' ears so as not to be tracked down! This is so cruel and coward! Frankly, this article makes me ashamed of my native country! I am feeling very in tune with Brigitte Bardot's views promoting animal welfare. If only people would also spayed their animals, didn't let them have puppies and kittens that are going to be left unwanted! People should be made much more accountable for their actions when it comes to pet ownership!
My mother lives in France and every time I visit I am still horrified at the way so many French people tie up their dogs on chains or have them in cages all day long. The French don't seem to be very aware of animal welfare at all and that is why they are known as the Chinese of Europe.

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