Oui oui! Inspired by a petition, members of the French Parliament voted at last week’s National Assembly legal committee to approve a new bill that changes the way the country’s estimated 63 million pets are viewed.
The new legislation, which is sponsored by French President Francois Hollande’s Socialist party, changes the definition of animals from “movable goods” to “living and feeling beings.”
Thanks to the parliamentary vote, dogs, cats, horses, and other pets in France will now have new rights and stronger protection, animal activists say.
Former Education Minister and French philosopher Luc Ferry was one of the 700,000 people, including other scientists and academics, who signed the French petition, which called for an end to the definition of “animal” used in the 1804 Napoleonic civil code — a definition which equated pets with pieces of property like furniture.
Ferry believes that centuries-old definition is out-of-touch with reality — “absurd,” he tells the Daily Mail.
“No one has ever tortured a clock,” Ferry explains. “Animals suffer, they have emotions and feelings. It is not a question of making animals subjects of the law…but simply of protecting them against certain forms of cruelty.”
The head of the French animal welfare organization that initiated the petition, 30 Millions d’Amis (which translates to “30 Million Friends”), Reha Hutin, applauds the vote, telling the Telegraph that by approving the bill parliament has recognized “an obvious fact: animals are beings endowed by feelings.”
“[It was] ridiculous to see pets as pieces of furniture that can walk by themselves,” she adds.
The re-definition is likely to pave the way for stronger animal cruelty laws, and one French divorce lawyer, Franck Mejean, says the parliament’s vote will end a “legal grey area” for cats, dogs, and other pets stuck in the middle of divorce custody battles.
“I have already asked a judge to award shared custody of a cat,” Mejean explains. “Neither spouse wanted to part with it.”
But this new measure is not without opposition. Critics believe the new law could forbid practices like hunting, fishing, and other animal-related sports. Others worry the new definition of “animal” could be taken up by animal rights activists, who may argue that current French slaughter practices and the eating of meat is wrong because it involves the killing of “beings with feelings.”
One member of the French Parliament, Philippe Gosselin, believes the bill will put many industries and even possible scientific innovations at risk.
“Agriculture will be threatened, along with wolf culls and hunting,” Gosselin insists. “And what about laboratories and abattoirs, which could find themselves in very complicated legal cases?”
And one spokesman from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, Christophe Marie, calls the re-definition “long overdue,” but believes even more should be done to save the lives of animals.
“It does nothing to challenge the exploitation of animals,” Marie says.
The French vote stands in stark contrast to recent legal decisions in the U.S. that have solidified the definition of animals as mere property, including one Oregon animal neglect case that is making headlines. The Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of 28-year-old Amanda L. Newcomb, who was initially found guilty of second-degree animal neglect for allegedly starving her dog, because while animals are living beings in the state they are also seen as property in the eyes of the law.