PARIS, France — Good news for the cats and dogs of France: they have feelings now.
Mais oui. Doting pet owners may be surprised to learn that man’s best friend is, according to the French civil code, a “movable asset.” Like an armchair, but furrier. And with a bigger appetite. And claws.
That’s about to change, if the governing Socialist Party gets its way. Legislators on the lower house of parliament’s legal committee this week voted in favor of the Socialists’ proposal to amend the civil code and reclassify domestic animals as “living, sentient beings.” The measure now has to pass the full lower house and then the Senate in order to take effect.
Before PETA marshals its squadrons to boycott all things French, let’s get one thing clear: France hasn’t actually been treating its animals like household furniture. (Though 1 million euros to whoever is capable of convincing a cat that it’s anyone’s personal property.) Pets are already recognized as living creatures in two of the other texts that determine French law, the penal and rural codes.
The sponsors of the amendment say it will simply bring all three codes into line. The civil code dates back to the days of Napoleon, after all, and after two centuries of re-tweaks contains all sort of oddities.
Thus, Article 528 states the following:
Animals and things which can move from one place to another, whether they move by themselves, or whether they can move only as the result of an extraneous power, are movables by their nature.
Yet there’s an exception for animals “that the owner of a tenement placed thereon for the use and working of the tenement.” So any pigeons that live in pigeon lofts on that land, rabbits that live in warrens, bees that live in hives and fish that live in specific categories of water are immovable assets. Got that? Oh, and don’t even get us started on horses, which are “commodities” just like carriages, medals, precious stones and, er, wine.
Animal rights activists who’ve been campaigning for the amendment say that pets shouldn’t be classified as assets — moveable or immovable — in any part of the law, in order to close off the slightest possible loophole that might allow someone who hurts an animal to claim it’s just the same as not looking after their living room set.
Now that the reclassification is in sight, some campaigners want to take things further and protect the feelings that legislators accept animals have. Aptly named Green Party MP Laurence Abeille (her surname means “bee”) says she’s drafting “much more ambitious” legislation to protect animal rights, having fought — unsuccessfully — to make the proposed amendment explicitly disallow any practices, such as factory farming, that supposedly don’t respect animals’ sentience.
Her suggestion was rejected by the parliamentary committee, along with proposals to ban cockfights and bullfighting in France. They were judged “off topic” by the committee’s spokeswoman, who just happens to represent one of the southwest regions where the latter is still allowed. Animals may have feelings, but that doesn’t mean humans won’t ignore them.