For over 200 years, in France, animals have been relegated to the status of personal property. It is the same the world over in respect of the legal status of animals including companion animals. In Britain they are chattels, an old-fashioned word which means possessions as if one is possessing a table or a chair.
France has taken a significant and I think wonderful lead on the rest of the world in officially classified animals as living beings under a fiercely debated bill, which has now been approved by members of Parliament.
For those who are not sure, a “Bill”, it in this context, refers to legislation (law) which is being debated before it might become active law as a statute. As the Bill has been approved by the members of Parliament in France, I hope we can presume that there will be no upsets in the process of it becoming a statute and binding law on all the citizens of France.
As far as I’m concerned this change in the status of animals is long overdue. I would not consider myself an animal activist but, of course, animal activists are delighted. Animal activists say that cats, dogs, horses and other species of animal would no longer be treated as objects in the French courts.
Because animals can be treated as sentient living beings rather than movable goods there will be many beneficial spin-offs in the way that people must treat animals. For example, in divorce cases, the companion animal should receive the same kind of treatment as a child of the family. This might result in shared custody. Or if, for example a cat or dog are close friends within the family, on divorce, a court should make an order that both companion animals remain together. At the moment, companion animals would usually not be subject to negotiation in divorce proceedings. They will be divided up as if they are bits of furniture.
This wonderful Bill (as far as I’m concerned), which describes animals as “living and feeling beings” was passed in Parliament after nearly 700,000 people signed a petition against the 1804 civil law which described animals as “movable goods”.
Apparently, many intellectuals signed the petition. One of them was Luc Ferry. He is a philosopher and the former education minister. Quite rightly, he said that the Napoleonic legislation, which placed the animals on the same level as furniture, was “absurd”. He made the amusing remark that nobody had ever taught at the clock!
Another positive spin-off from this legislation will be that there will probably have to be better handling of animals in research laboratories – and about time too. I would ban the whole thing myself.
Another positive spin-off will be that when a companion animal such as a cat is run over due to negligence of the driver or maliciously and with intent hurt, the cat’s caretaker will be able to claim compensation for their emotional suffering.
There will be numerous other, perhaps unforeseen, positive and beneficial consequences for animals in France and let’s remember there are 63,000,000 pets in France including 18,000,000 domestic cats and dogs. Law can mold change people’s attitudes and behavior over time. I hope many countries follow suit. What about Britain and the USA for example?
Of course, farmers and the like are against it. The change has been denounced by certain members of the French establishment as being a dangerous attack on the French way of life. What they mean is that it may undermine the breeding and hunting of animals including having an impact upon fishing.
Well, I say is about time that these pursuits were attacked by the civilised majority. What do you think?