France: No more doggies in the window

A nation of pet lovers is facing a shakeup in the way cats and dogs can join households. From 2024, the animals will no longer be sold at stores in France. Regulators hope the move will address a high rate of abandonment that has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Paris and poodles

It is estimated that more than half of all French households own at least one pet. Dogs are part of the Parisian urban streetscape. They walk the footpath with their owners, travel on the metro, and are welcome inside cafes and restaurants.

New rules take effect in 2024

Lawmakers adopted an amendment to the Act on the Handling of Animals last November. It states that the exhibition and sale of dogs and cats in pet stores will be banned from 2024. In addition, the general public will no longer be able to trade dogs and cats online.

Instead, people can deal with an authorized pet store over the internet, directly with a breeder, or pick up from a shelter.

Addressing animal abandonment

Abandoned animals in an animal shelter in Compiègne
Abandoned animals in an animal shelter in Compiègne

The main reason for the new measures is to curtail the number of homeless dogs and cats. According to a French animal protection group, around 100,000 are abandoned every year, especially during the summer holiday period from May to August.

Faced with difficulties transporting their pets and finding accommodation, some owners choose to simply leave their animals on the street.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people enjoyed the company of pets while they were working from home. But since workers started returning to the office, the number of abandoned animals is increasing.

Christelle Varlet is the director of the Compiègne Animal Protection Association shelter in the country's north. She says the facility is overwhelmed with dogs: "People are dropping off dogs every day. During lockdown they were together all the time, but now people have gone back to work the dogs are causing problems when they are left alone all day. Owners are fed up coming home to discover soiled floors and other damage and they are giving up their pets.

One of the lawmakers behind the new rules, Laetitia Romeiro Dias, hopes to prevent people from buying pets on impulse and abandoning them afterward.

Laetitia Romeiro Dias, a lawmaker
Laetitia Romeiro Dias, a lawmaker supporting the new rules

"Animal abandonment or mistreatment is often linked to a lack of understanding about the responsibility that a pet entails," she explains. "An animal is not an object and the way they are sold needed to be changed."

Pet industry opposed to the move

The pet industry is strongly opposed to the revision of the law. At a pet shop in Bourg-en-Bresse, eastern France, proprietor Jean Philippe Maucourant says special care is taken to ensure people are well matched with the animal they choose. That includes explaining the characteristics of different breeds, and what level of care and attention they need. The store also keeps its animals in a low-stress environment, and out of window displays.

Dogs in a pet shop
A pet shop in Bourg-en-Bresse

"They do not spend all day in their boxes. Evenings, weekends, public holidays, they are with us," he explains. "They are at home, in a family environment, and they are taken outside for exercise. Many pet stores operate like this," says Maucourant.

Pet shop union representative Luc Ladonne says it is unfair to ban in-store dog and cat sales because most operators take a responsible approach.

"The animals that are abandoned do not come from pet stores," claims Ladonne. "This will spell the end for pet shops," he says, warning that the trade in cats and dogs will likely be taken over by unscrupulous organized crime networks.

Japan also tightens regulations

While there are no moves afoot in Japan to ban pet store sales, some regulations are tightening in a bid to improve animal rights. The environment ministry implemented an ordinance last year to fix standards for the size of breeding cages – and limit the number of litters per animal.

The rules target breeders who force animals to give birth repeatedly in cruel conditions.

Breeding dogs must have a separate exercise space and only be kept in a cage at least twice their height and length. For cats, cages must be more than three times their height, and double their length.

Individual dogs have a birth limit of 20 puppies over their lifetime, and for cats, 30 kittens. In addition, dogs can only deliver six litters at most. Breeding cats must not be older than six years in most cases.

Introducing microchips

Starting from June, all new sales of dogs and cats in Japan need to be microchipped, which helps to identify the owners of abandoned animals and reunite people with lost pets.

Breeders, pet shops, and other sellers are obliged to microchip dogs and cats and record their breeds and fur colors. New owners must register their name, address and phone number.

A ministry statement explains that "the amendment of the law was made in response to opinions arguing that appropriate standards should be set in the management of animals, because malicious sellers will not disappear."

Honjo Moe, associate professor at Nagasaki University's faculty of environmental science, says while the changes in France do not directly impact Japan, authorities monitor the approach that other countries take in animal management: "Every time the Japanese government modifies relevant laws, they tend to undertake research, information sharing and discussions about the restrictions in place overseas."

France moves to protect more animals

France has more regulations in the pipeline. Aquarium shows featuring dolphins and killer whales will be banned from 2026, and wild animals will no longer be permitted in circus acts from 2028.