Success for Four Paws ‘Wild? Me?’ Campaign: EU recognises that homeless cats and dogs are not wild
An Animal Rights Article from


Four Paws
June 2015

stray animals not wild animals

A major step forward for strays and companion animals in Europe has been reached within the last draft of the Animal Health Law

In what is being seen as a huge step forward for stray companion animals, and animal welfare generally, the EU has decided to recognise that stray cats and dogs should not be classified as “wild”.

Since the first draft of the new Animal Health Law was released, international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has warned of the misuse of the term “wild” when referring to stray animals, a classification which would have given them significantly lower legal protection than kept companion animals and could, in some situations, even have offered legal grounds for allowing hunters to shoot at them.

MEP Marit Paulsen (SW, ALDE), European Parliament’s rapporteur on the Animal Health Law, now renamed “European law on Transmissible Animal Diseases”, and EU Commissioner Andriukaitis presented the outcome of the agreement between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Although the “wild” and “kept” definitions will remain in the law, a clause has been added, stating that stray animals are not wild, and that the critical definition of wild animals, as given by this description, will apply only to this law.

The new regulation will replace and encompass most of the present EU legislation on animal health. It distinguishes between those animals which are kept as pets and those which are stray without an owner kept, attributing homeless cats and dogs a lower level of legal protection than “kept” ones. It was feared that this could lead to legal grounds to kill strays. Now, by inserting the additional clause a compromise solution has been found and the draft explicitly distinguishing strays from the other non kept animals.

Moreover, the latest draft includes other improvements for animal welfare. The very first article of the Animal Health Law implements a safeguard clause for stray population management programmes, stating not only that they have to be performed in a humane way, avoiding pain and distress for the animals, but also that they have to be proportionate to the health risk posed by the population issue. It will also now be required for these programs to be implemented in a transparent way and to include consultations with a range of stakeholders to find the most suitable and effective solutions.

The most progressive initiative implemented by this new law is the mandatory registration of all professional breeders and sellers of animals. “We welcome this initiative which will help to reduce irresponsible breeding, and in turn reduce overpopulation and abandonment of companion animals,” said Julie Sanders, Country Manager of FOUR PAWS UK.

Finally, the new law redefines some terms in the transposition of the Pet Passport Regulation to try to reduce the possibilities of the illegal puppy trade under the non-commercial movement scheme.

Despite these improvements, some issues remain unresolved. FOUR PAWS has concerns regarding the proper enforcement of some unclear terms and notions of the law, such as “humane treatment” of animals. “This agreed version of the Animal Health Law does not meet all FOUR PAWS expectations, but it is already a major step forward for strays and companion animals in Europe,” says Sanders. By increasing control and redefining responsibilities, this new law may discourage Member States from adopting systematic culling programs of stray animals, which often take place without transparency and prior consultation with stakeholders and NGOs.

According to the Rapporteur, the final Parliamentary vote validating this compromise, set to occur in November, should be a simple formality.

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