Adopting a dog or cat in France

Adopting a dog or cat in France

Every year in France thousands of healthy animals are put down due to overcrowding in refuges. Some animals have been abandoned, some found wandering, others have been surrendered because their owner has died or is unable to look after them. Litters of puppies are unfortunately often found in boxes or plastic bags by the rubbish bins.

Adopting a dog or cat in France is very similar to adopting in the UK. The SPA, (Société Protectrice Animaux) created in 1845 functions as an organisation to promote the well being of animals. They have 57 refuges in France and take in 45,000 animals a year. Animals can be taken there by their owners and are required to sign a “certificat d’abandon” and pay a fee.

There are also places called fourrières which are placement centres for animals found wandering, either abandoned or lost. These are under the jurisdiction of the departmental veterinary services. Animals are kept there 8 days whilst attempts are made to find the owner. If this is unsuccessful then the animal will usually be given over to a refuge for re-homing. The same building can often house both a refuge and a fourrière and they function as one unit.

All SPA refuges function in a similar manner but conditions vary enormously between them. Some SPA refuges operate a euthanasia policy due to the huge demand for places. Others only euthanase an animal if it is extremely sick or too aggressive to re-home.

Some SPA refuges neuter male and female dogs and cats before adoption. Others ask you to do so.

There also exist in France many associations which take and rehome animals. Some are registered charities, others are just private citizens doing what they can. Each association will have different rules for adoption. Some work as refuges and take animals in whilst others find foster homes where the animals can stay until they are adopted.

What will I need to have in order to adopt?

Normally you will be required to show a piece of identity, something showing where you live (electricity bill for example) and some would also ask for proof of income or means. Most refuges will want to know if you have a garden and if so, if it is fenced in.

How much will it cost?

The charges for adoption from the SPA and other organizations vary according to the refuge, whether the animal is sterilised or not and the age of a dog or cat. On average expect to pay 80-120 euros especially if the animal has already been sterilised. Older animals are often less money as they are harder to place.

How do I start looking?

The first question to ask yourself is your reason for adopting. Do you want a companion in the house, a friend to take on long walks or runs, a dog who will need a lot of time and what sort of personality would suit you. An energetic dog will need a lot of exercise and is unsuitable for a person who cannot give that. An older or quiet dog may suit more elderly people. If you have children you will need to consider the suitability of the dog with regards to interacting with children.

Taking on any animal is a huge commitment of time and also a certain amount of money. Make sure you have the means for both.

Many associations now have websites where you can have a look at the animals for adoption and read a bit about them before you visit.

If you are interested in a particular breed there are adoption agencies which specialize in certain breeds. You will probably have to speak some French or have a friend to help.

Visiting a refuge

Phone first or find out from the website the best time to visit. Larger refuges may not have enough staff in the mornings to help you as they are busy cleaning and feeding the animals. If possible talk to a member of staff and explain what sort of dog or cat you are interested in.

A visit to a refuge where there are many dogs and cats in cages can be a harrowing experience. There can be a lot of noise and especially dogs barking and jumping at the wire trying to get your attention. Try not to be swayed by looks. That beautiful Afghan or Mastiff may not have the right temperament for you. There are many “pedigree” dogs in refuges, but the majority are cross breeds.

You can ask the staff for their opinion regarding temperament, behaviour, whether the dog or cat gets on with other animals and children and in the case of a dog how much training they have had.

You can then spend some time with the dog or cat you have asked to see. Is he friendly? Does he come up to you or run away from you? Will he let you handle him? Is there any aggression or nipping? An experienced person will be able to take on an extremely fearful or unpredictable animal, if that is not you, then don’t take on more than you can cope with just because you feel sorry for him. Many dogs are returned to a refuge several weeks after adoption because the person cannot cope. It is not always evident but try to assess whether you are the best owner for that pet.

You can visit several times before making your decision. Puppies and kittens are also widely available.


Taking your dog or cat home

Your new dog or cat will be excited and anxious about his new home. Don’t be surprised at panting and pacing, housetraining accidents, excessive drinking or chewing, or gastric upset. In addition, any dog, especially a male who was not neutered early, is likely to mark new territory – especially if other pets have lived there. Tell every member of your family to resist the temptation to overwhelm a new dog. Give him some time and space to get settled.

Keep cats inside to begin with, providing a litter tray, food and water. Allow your cat to settle and don’t overwhelm them. Introduce your new cat to other cats or dogs in a controlled manner.

On arriving home with a dog

When you bring your new dog home, walk him on a lead so that he can take in the smells of the turf and relieve himself. Pick a special place and encourage him to “go” there. Be patient; it may take 10 or 15 minutes. Always praise warmly when he relieves himself in an approved spot.

If you have an existing dog, introduce them away from the house. Go for a walk together and let them get to know one another before going home. If there are aggression problems seek advice.

Next, enter the house and show him around. Keep him on leash. If he lifts his leg or squats, give him a quick leash correction (yank on the leash and release) and say “No” to disrupt the action, then take the dog outside immediately. Offer a treat for going in the right place.

Introduce the dog to her crate (carry box)

Crating is an invaluable tool, especially at the beginning. Make sure the crate is large enough for dog when fully grown; you can block off part for a pup. There should be room to stand and turn around.

Crate facts: Housetraining problems are the top reason people give up dogs. Crates aid in housetraining because of dogs’ den instincts – they avoid messing where they sleep. A crate is your dog’s safe haven. It replicates a den in nature. Crating is cruel only if the dog is physically uncomfortable or if left too often or too long. NEVER put the dog in the crate as a punishment.

Important: Teach your dog that good things come in the crate. Place appealing toys and a blanket in the crate; feed in the crate. Stay in the room awhile and praise when the dog rests calmly in the crate. Leave the door open and let them wander in and out.


It can be a good idea to let your dog sleep in a room with the pack – you and your family. The dog should have her own bed or crate. For some dogs, sleeping on the human’s bed can aggravate dominant behaviours, it’s best not to allow this. It is not unusual for your new dog to bark or whine if confined to a crate. Dogs want to be with their pack members. (This is why dogs kept outside often are nuisance barkers or destructive. They are stressed being kept apart.)

Place the crate or bed where she can see you. If she barks at bedtime, correct her with a firm “No Bark!” Praise softly when she quiets down. Over a period of time you can, if you wish, move her bed further away. Do this gradually.

Safety issues

Keep an ID tag attached to a snug buckle collar on your dog or cat at all times.
Keep dogs on-lead when outdoors in unfenced areas. Otherwise, you’ll have no control if your dog obeys instinct and chases a squirrel into the street / tussles with another dog / or runs after a child. Never leave children alone with your dog. Teach your own and visiting children:

  • The proper way to approach a dog or cat.
  • Not to rush up to, scream at, or pester a dog or cat.
  • Never harass or mistreat a dog or cat. Don’t jump on or play roughly with dogs or cat.
  • Dogs and cats can’t cry, so they tell you that they’re afraid by growling, nipping or scratching.House trainingCount on a dog marking or having accidents in the first few days or weeks, even if he was housetrained. If you catch the dog in the act tell him “no” and take him outside. It is useless to scold a dog if you find a puddle later on. Also be prepared for other transitional behavioural problems.Who’s boss?During the transition period, a dog needs time to adjust to the rules and schedule of your household. He needs your leadership! A dog is a pack animal looking for guidance, and it is up to you to teach him good, acceptable behaviours. If the human does not take charge, the dog may try to.Dogs aren’t looking for a democracy – they’re looking for leaders. Dogs want to know their place in the family pack and what their people expected of them, otherwise they’re stressed. Most often, an “aggression” problem is really a “stress and confusion” problem. If your dog tries to dominate you or someone else in your household, it’s probably because he sees role confusion and responds by taking charge.

    Beware of letting your dog on your bed or furniture if you haven’t established all human family members as the leaders (“alpha”). Dominance-related problems often arise when a dog is on a higher physical level. Dogs don’t seek equality; they seek and need leadership. If your dog begins to growl or show other signs of aggression to anyone in the household, work on obedience training immediately to re-establish who is in charge.

    Remember: Many adopted dogs have not had the luck to be socialized yet. Their baggage may include unacceptable behaviour. Re-educate your dog with the help of books and qualified professionals.

    Where to go to adopt

    SPA – or find your local refuge in the phone book. Phone or email [email protected]. English spoken contact Sue on 0565245303 or email [email protected] English spoken

    In French: and English spoken

    You can also ask at your local vets and look on their notice boards for animals to adopt.

    This article was written by Polly-Anne Lloyd, Canine Behaviour Specialist and dog trainer. She offers one to one assessments of your dog for advice on problem behaviours or for training. She also runs small group training classes in the Valence d’Agen, Bergerac and Nontron areas. Please contact her on, email: [email protected] or visit her website at Polly is also the rep in France for Doggon Wheels which make wheelchairs, harnesses and other items for handicapped pets: ( the parent site in the USA).

Read more: an interview with the owner of an animal refuge in Dordogne

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