For Europeans, it's not uncommon to take a whole month of vacation in the summer. But the season can be a deadly time for the many pets left behind — permanently.
The abandonment of domestic animals by vacationers is a scourge in many countries across Europe. And in France, this summer isn't likely to be different despite campaigns by animal-rights groups against the practice.
Just off the highway about 45 minutes from Paris, the shelter run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Chamarande, France, is crowded this time of year. Many of the 120 dogs and 60 cats there 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.
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 dump them there.
"So we make them come with us to put the dogs in the cages themselves," Brissard says. "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."
Brissard says too many people think 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.
A Continent-Wide Problem
This 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 — online, on social media and on giant posters in the Paris metro. One shows a sad-eyed dog, with the message: "Animals can't cry, they just suffer in silence. Don't leave your pet this year."
Anne-Claire Chauvancy with the Foundation for the Assistance of Animals says she wonders if the campaign even has an impact anymore.
"Everyone knows abandoning your dog is cruel, and he'll probably starve or get hit by a car," she says. "This campaign has become almost banal and just seems to mark the beginning of summer."
And yet, one of the most striking things for visitors to France is how pet friendly the country is. Animals are welcome nearly everywhere, including restaurants. What would the traditional bistro be without its resident shepherd dog or tabby cat behind the bar?
With 61 million domestic animals, France has the most pet ownership in Europe, and nearly half of all households have a pet member. "The large majority of French are horrified by the thought of abandoning their pet," says David Chauvet, vice president of Animal Rights, a group that advocates stopping sales in pet shops until the shelters are empty. "But there are people with no scruples, much like child abusers."
Back at the shelter, it's a new day for Schwarze, a five-year-old Irish setter who was recently abandoned. An elderly couple is now adopting him.
The woman says that they lost their own setter four months ago. They wanted another one, but not a puppy because they were too old. It was difficult to find this dog, she says.
Schwarze got a new home, but most pets here won't be so lucky this summer.