What you need to know about France’s new animal rights law

Puppies
Sales of dogs and cats will be restricted in pet shops. Photo: David Edne
Landmark legislation aimed at tackling animal cruelty has been approved by French lawmakers - here's what the new law says on topics including abandonment of pets, bestiality, circus animals and bullfighting.

As well as the measures targeting circuses, the new law will raise the maximum penality for mistreating animals to up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000, and will tighten restrictions on the sale of pets.

Loďc Dombreval, the LREM co-sponsor of the law, conceded that other controversial issues had not been included within the scope of the legislation, which won cross-party support in both houses of parliament.

“There will inevitably come a day when… we will debate sensitive issues such as hunting, such as bull-fighting, or some animal-rearing practices,” said the lawmaker, who is also a veterinarian.

Barbara Pompili, the French Ecology Minister, has said of the wide-reaching legislation: “To act in support of animal well-being is the mark of a conscious society and of its responsibility towards a fragile natural world. It is a sign of mature civilisation.”

Here’s what you need to know: 

Pet abandonment

The law makes sure that first-time buyers of cats or dogs would have to sign a ‘certificate of commitment and understanding’ before making their purchase. After the signed document is delivered to the authorities, future owners have seven days to change their mind – the idea is to prevent people from ‘impulsively’ buying pets only to abandon them later. 

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The new law also strengthens already existing sanctions for the abandonment of a pet which currently stand at a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a €30,000 fine.

Sale of pets

Pet shops will not be able to sell dogs and cats from 2024 – and won’t be able to display them in shop windows. Only abandoned dogs and cats will be available for sale in pet stores, working with rescue shelters. 

Online pet sales will be banned, with the exception of websites of licensed breeders and pet stores. 

Sales of pets to minors will be banned, except with the parents’ consent.

Mistreatment of pets

French law already sanctions serious abuse against pets – the new legislation strengthens these sanctions, notably for abuse committed by children. 

The maximum penalty is now five years in prison and a €75,000 fine. 

The new law also makes it a crime to deliberately kill pets or otherwise tamed animals. However, judges may decide to punish animal abusers with mandatory educational courses on animal cruelty, rather than prison sentences at their discretion. 

READ ALSO White tiger seized at house in southeast France

Outside the criminal justice system, lessons on how to treat pets properly will be given in schools. 

Bestiality

Bestiality is already illegal in France, but the new law imposes stricter penalties on the filming and broadcasting of sexual acts committed on animals. Suggesting sexual activity with an animal on dating websites and apps will be sanctioned with a one-year prison sentence. 

Circuses, aquariums and wild animals

The new law will ban the display of wild animals in travelling circuses by 2028 and will prevent the breeding of wild animals for circus display by 2023. As of yet, there are no guidelines as to what to do with these animals from 2028 onwards – it is possible that circus owners will be able to hold onto their beasts, but not show them to the public. 

A commission has been set up to advise on how to better treat animals that are already being held captive. Fixed circuses (that don’t move around the country) are currently held to the same animal protection standards as zoos. 

Aquariums are also targeted. Dolphin and orca shows will be banned from 2026, as will the captive reproduction of these animals – except in cases where such reproduction programmes are being used for scientific research or in sanctuaries. 

Animal shows will also be banned in discos and private parties. From 2023, wild animals will not be allowed to be shown on TV variety shows and game shows. Bear and wolf taming will also be banned. 

READ ALSO French court rejects attempt to outlaw bullfighting

There are currently registered in France 850 circus animals, 21 dolphins, four orcas and five bear trainers. 

The breeding of American mink and other wild species for fur will be banned altogether.

Hunting and bullfighting 

The law does not include any extra protections for livestock or other animals used in agriculture. There are no proposals for changes in the laws around hunting and bullfighting can also continue.

Often thought of as a Spanish thing, bullfighting also has a long history in south west France, although as the activity becomes increasingly controversial many local authorities have put in place bans.

READ ALSO Why hunting is becoming an election issue in France 


Member comments

  1. I welcome any law which helps stop maltreatment of any animal. But fail to see why these are not effective immediately.

  2. Overall fantastic news. The issue will now boil down to enforcement. As with many other laws, whilst the legislation is in place, the enforcement is too often lacking.

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