Pets – classed under French civil law as property like tables and chairs – are to be given a new legal status as ‘sentient beings’
Pets in France will no longer be considered as pieces of furniture, after parliament voted to grant them new rights.
This should make it easier to prosecute cases of animal cruelty and help courts to decide who gets custody of cats or dogs when couples divorce, campaigners said.
The vote in the national assembly on Tuesday night followed a long campaign by animal welfare groups, but it still has to be approved by the Senate.
MPs decided to review the status of pets after 678,000 people signed an online petition. Among them were a number of French scientists, academics and a former education minister.
Reha Hutin, head of the animal protection society, 30 Millions d’Amis (30 Million Friends), which started the petition, said it was “ridiculous to see pets as pieces of furniture that can walk by themselves”.
Franck Mejean, a divorce lawyer, said the new status would end a “legal grey area” for pets in custody battles. “I have already asked a judge to award shared custody of a cat,” Mr Mejean said. “Neither spouse wanted to part with it.”
The change will bring the civil law into line with the penal code, which sets tough penalties for cruelty to animals.
Two months ago, a man was sentenced to a year in prison after posting a video of himself tossing a kitten into the air, and breaking its leg.
Christophe Marie, a spokesman for the Brigitte Bardot Foundation welcomed the “long overdue” change but said “it does nothing to challenge the exploitation of animals”.
Pets are legally considered to be property in England so that owners can press charges or claim compensation if they are stolen. But not surprisingly in a nation of animal lovers, pets in England were the first to benefit from animal protection laws introduced in 1844.