What to do when you find a lost or abandoned dog or cat

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There’s no beating about the bush, the figures speak for themselves. Every year over 100,000 pets are abandoned in France, and 60% of these in the holiday months of July and August. The French are well known for their long annual vacances with droves leaving the big cities and heading to the coast or countryside for a month-long holiday. Many don’t want to take their pet with them, and don’t want the cost of boarding fees or the hassle of finding a pet sitter. Animals are abandoned at the side of the road, autoroute aires, tied up in fields and forests, and boxes of puppies are routinely left outside the gates of animal refuges.

Photo of a dog and a cat
Image by Rohit Tripathi from Pixabay

Abandoning a dog is illegal

Although the problem is worst in summer, this is an annual occurrence. As well as during holidays, pets may be dumped because they are unwanted, untrained, ill, old, surplus to requirements, or no longer fit in with their former owner’s lifestyle. Old people die or are admitted to care homes and their children are left with the problem of pooch. The solution more often than not is to surrender the dog at the local refuge, or worse, open the front door and turn the dog out. The chasse are no respecters of their dogs either. It is not unusual for dogs to be turned out when they are too old or ill to be able to hunt, or if the owner doesn’t want the cost of feeding over the summer. This happens despite the fact that dumping dogs is illegal. It carries a €30,000 fine or a two-year prison sentence. However, prosecutions for plain abandonment are few and far between. Legal action seems to be reserved for cases involving cruelty.

National campaigns

In 2018 some 60,000 dogs were abandoned in France. In both 2018 and 2019 the animal welfare organisation 30 millions d’amis launched hard-hitting, emotional campaigns: #nonalabandonment. But, it’s not the first time media attention has been drawn to the problem. The previous years have seen campaigns from the overall governing body of the SPAs (Secours et Protection des Animaux) and the organisations who operate the toll motorways. Yes, they were asking people not to abandon their pets at the motorway services!

What to do if you find a stray dog

  • If the dog is injured you should take it to a vet. All cliniques offer a 24-hour service. If you can’t move the animal, maybe it has been injured in an accident, then call the pompiers.
  • The ultimate responsibility rests with the Mairie that is closest to where you’ve found the dog. This is a legal duty, and the Mairie must have arrangements with a local fourrière (dog pound). So, you can take the dog to the Mairie and leave the rest to them.

However, if you’re anything like me you’ll want to help the poor dog, or you’ll find the Mairie is closed. So, here are a few other steps you can take.

  • If you can catch the dog, check whether it is wearing a collar with a name tag or phone number (some chasse dogs have phone numbers written on the inside of their collars). If it has, then call the owner and hopefully they will soon be reunited.
  • Check on the Chien Perdu website to see if it’s listed missing, and have a look at the local Pet Alert Facebook page for your department (just search Pet Alert + department number).
  • Failing that, depending on the time of day, you can take the dog to a vet to check whether it has a microchip or ear tattoo. The vet may help track down the owner or notify the Mairie.
  • Or, you can take the dog to the fourrière yourself, though you must still report it to the Mairie. These are often part of the local SPA. Understandably many people will want to avoid this, for fear of the fate that may await the poor animal and it is really a last resort.
  • Whatever you do, you’ll still need to report it to the Mairie.

What happens next? The fourrière has a legal duty to try to trace the owners of stray dogs. There’s a statutory eight-day period during which the dog remains in the pound. Then, if it is not claimed, or if its owners refuse to collect it (this is common – they don’t want to pay the fees), the dog is available for adoption. And your French animal collection can expand (only joking!).

What about cats and small animals?

Cats don’t have quite the same status as dogs in France. In some areas they are considered to be vermin and prone to the unsavoury activities of the local chasse. Many rural areas do have a problem with feral cats and some small communes become overrun. The good news is that there are quite a few schemes organising and funding trap, neuter and release programmes. Some Mairies provide financial support, too. In rural areas some cats may not be completely feral. Many French have outdoor, barn cats to keep the rodent population at bay, but they don’t bother neutering them. This inevitably leads to hordes of unwanted kittens in the summer, some of which meet very unpleasant fates, actual or threatened.

Other small domestic pets are not immune from the dumping frenzy either. This reminds me of a member of a Facebook group who found a guinea pig, in a cage, dumped at the side of a roundabout on the outskirts of a town. Fortunately, it found a safe and happy home with them. Hopefully, you will never come across a starving dog wandering the lanes, or find a cardboard box of kittens at the local recycling centre (a common dumping place) but if you do, then I’m sure as a #veganfortheanimals you will do the right thing, unlike some of your French neighbours.

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