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In Europe, summertime can mean long vacations. It's not uncommon for people to take a whole month off. It's also not uncommon for vacationers to leave their pets behind, and that can be deadly for the animals. In France, animal rights groups now conduct annual campaigns against pet abandonment.
Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.
(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOGS)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Just off the highway about 45 minutes from Paris, the SPCA shelter in Chamarande is crowded this time of year. Many of the 120 dogs and 60 cats here have been abandoned by owners heading off on summer vacation. In fact, every summer an estimated 100,000 domestic animals are abandoned in France by owners who say they are unable to take them along or find someone to look after them back home.
(SOUNDBITE OF A METAL DOOR)
BEARDSLEY: Claire Brissard, who runs the Chamarande shelter, says some of the people don't even think they're doing anything wrong when they bring their pets to the shelter and abandon them there.
CLAIRE BRISSARD: (Through Translator) So we make them come with us to put the dogs in the cages themselves. And when they see the stress of the animal they're leaving behind, at least they're not proud of what they're doing. And we hope that keeps them from doing it again.
BEARDSLEY: Brissard says too many people consider a pet is like a stuffed animal that can be thrown away when they're tired of it. But she admits bringing a dog or cat to the shelter is less cruel than leaving it in the wild or out on the street.
The problem is also acute in Spain and Italy. And though it is illegal, it's difficult to enforce laws against it. So every year the French SPCA launches a campaign. You can find it on the Internet on Facebook and on giant posters in the Paris Metro, that show a sad-eyed dog looking out. Animals can't cry, says the inscription, they just suffer in silence: Don't leave your pet this year.
Anne-Claire Chauvancy, with the Animals Assistance League, says she wonders if the campaign even has an impact anymore.
ANNE-CLAIRE CHAUVANCY: (Through Translator) Everyone knows abandoning your dog is cruel, and he'll probably starve or get hit by a car. This campaign has almost become banal and just seems to mark the beginning of summer.
BEARDSLEY: Such a phenomenon seems almost impossible in France. The first thing that strikes visitors is how pet-friendly the country is. Animals are welcome nearly everywhere, including restaurants. What would the traditional bistro be without its resident shepherd or tabby cat behind the bar?
With 61 million domestic animals, France has the highest pet ownership in Europe, and nearly half of all households have a pet member.
David Chauvet is vice president of an animal rights organization. His group advocates stopping sales in pet shops until the shelters are empty.
DAVID CHAUVET: (Through Translator) The large majority of French are horrified by the thought of abandoning their pet. But there are people with no scruples, much like child abusers.
BEARDSLEY: Back at the shelter, it's a new day for Schwarze, a five-year-old Irish setter who was recently abandoned. This elderly couple is now adopting him.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: We lost our setter four months ago, says the woman. And we wanted another one, but not a puppy because we're too old. It wasn't easy but we found him.
Schwarze got a new home, but most pets here won't be so lucky this summer.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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