Living like a 'DOG' in France!

We moved to France in April 2002. We integrated quite well, participating in local activities and even being on the Board of some associations. It helped that we spoke French reasonably well.

Then we made two mistakes. We helped set up an association for the protection of animals and we had our land made into a no hunting zone. This involved transferring our right to hunt to an organisation called ASPAS which then became the only body that could authorise hunting on our land.

We don't know which of the two or whether both upset someone or some people but it didn't take long for things to start going awry.

The first thing was receiving a letter from the FDGDON, an organisation responsible for dealing with i.e. eradicating undesirable fauna and flora. The letter informed us that there were coypu on our land and we were legally obliged to get rid of them ourselves. We checked the legislation and found out that that wasn't true. The only obligation is to allow agents of a certain government department access to our land so that they can carry out the extermination. We don't like being lied to or treated as fools but with the help of a lawyer from ASPAS we managed to send a polite letter informing the FDGDON that we were prepared to cooperate to the extent of our legal obligation.

That was basically the end of the story except that a while later one of the town councillors informed us that an employee of the FDGDON had been telling local farmers that we were raising coypu. As farmers don't like coypu because of the damage that they do, this was clearly not going to enhance our reputation. The mayor also told us that we had been discussed unfavourably in a local Commission who we asked for a copy of the report of that meeting. Our request was refused.

Originally our association for the protection of animals NALA was set up at the request of our local mayor and we helped him place three or four animals from the town kennels that otherwise would have been stuck there. Some of our volunteers would go to the kennels and walk the dogs, spend some time with them to keep them socialised and check that they were all right. One volunteer expressed some dissatisfaction with a town employee and we noticed some deficiencies in the town kennels which we brought to the mayor's attention. This lead to us no longer being given access to the kennels for safety reasons. It seemed like the honeymoon was over.

We organised a NALA Open Day in the town which was family oriented, so we sent an invitation to the local schools. One headmistress replied that she didn't feel able to pass on the message to the children because she had heard so many negative things about the association. We were extremists, vegetarians, cried at the death of any animal... Clearly our reputation but as we found out later also our own animals were under attack.

In November 2011 a local farmer and a hunter asked for permission to hunt some wild boar on our land. Apparently we had about ten of them seeing refuge on our property. We only have three and a half hectares, mainly meadow with a few thickets of brambles. Wild boar are not subtle creatures and leave plenty of traces: they dig scrapes, eat the vegetation, leave footprints and fur on thorns etc. We expressed our doubts about there being any wild boar on our land, let alone ten and also explained that in any case we had transferred the right to hunt to ASPAS, so even if we wanted to, against our convictions, we couldn't authorise them to hunt on our property. We also have geese, ducks and chickens wandering about on our land so the last thing that we want is a pack of hounds running about scaring them on to the busy road.

The hunter and the farmer were clearly not happy and said that there might be an obligatory hunt organised to protect crops in which case it might be dangerous for our animals, as (so they claimed) all animals wild or domestic would be shot. Later the farmer also told us that such an attitude and lack of cooperation from us could harm the reputation of our association for the protection of animals. Clearly we were between the devil and the deep blue sea.

A few days later a bunch of hunters appeared in the field next to ours and spent most of the day hanging around looking at the area where the wild boar were supposed to be. Although they didn't come on to our land, it wasn't a very pleasant experience as we didn't know what they were intending to do and we had poultry and of course cats running free, so we had to be on the alert all the time that they were there.

All was quiet until 10th January 2012, when there was a hunting dog running around on our property, upsetting our geese. One morning we also found a cigarette butt just in front of our front door, which is about 15 metres from the public road. A few days later there was a 20g fishing weight in front of the door. Even odder was a condom wrapper that was found a few days later next to an internal gate about 30 or more metres from the road. And I found water had mysteriously got into the oil of an aircooled car stored over the Winter in a hanger.

Until now nobody had been harmed. But that changed when at the end of January 2012 one of our dogs was poisoned 1, then in April 2012 a chicken was stolen 2., and in September Farah our cat was run over by a car, that very same day a cat belonging to the ex-President of our association disappeared and two days later Saba another of our cats disappeared 3 ,. And that's not all.

In March 2012 we had a call from the police in a neighbouring town who wanted our help in placing a cat that was in their kennels. We told them that the legal procedure is that another association Galia takes the animal from the kennel and that we can help to find the original owner or a person to adopt it. We offered to make some flyers with details of the cat and put them in letterboxes in the area where it had been found.

We made a flyer and put it in the letter box of the town hall asking for some copies to be made, as that is a service that they provide to associations. A few days later we called to find out when we could pick up the copies only to learn that the request had been refused. The head of the services thought that we were doing something illegal so had refused to aid and abet us. It was explained to him that what we were doing was just in order to find the owner, but he still refused to allow the copies to be printed. We had them printed elsewhere and distributed them.

A few days later we learnt from the head of the police that she had had a strange phone call in which the man had asked for confirmation about what we were doing. She confirmed our story so the man started accusing our association and also the other association, Galia of acting illegally.

The legal service of ASPAS wrote to the mayor and asked him to rectify this defamation, to put something in the next town newsletter stating our positive role and reminding people that they should not attack other people's animals. We are now a couple of months and a series of letters further. No written apology. We even found out that we hadn't received an invitation like all the other associations to write something for the town newsletter nor an invitation to the opening ceremony of the sports hall.

And last but not least. On the 21st September we were in a meeting with our legal representative discussing this campaign of intimidation when the door bell rang. It was a gendarme who informed us that a complaint had been made against us for illegal dumping of household waste. He explained that a rubbish bag had been found dumped in the town. In the bag was a flyer from us about a lost animal. The person who found the bag had therefore concluded that we were responsible for the dumping and had made an official complaint. The gendarme said that that was an unreasonable conclusion but that we still had to go to the gendarmerie to make a statement. We made an appointment for the next day.

The next day the gendarme read out the complaint by a M. DD who was the policeman in our town: a new position since the beginning of September. The name didn't mean anything to me. The gendarme filled in the statement and made it clear that we weren't responsible for dumping the rubbish bag.

Once back home I looked up M. DD and discovered that he was the head of municipal services including the kennels. Yes, those kennels that we had reported to the mayor as not being up to scratch!

We have reported the events in writing to the authorities, local and departmental. The mayor is responsible for law and order in the town but is not able to help. And the thing that surprises us most is that when we talk to other people about this, they are not even shocked by it. As far as they are concerned this is normal practice in France. 

The president of association Nala85480

Bournezeau, September 2012

1 On 28th January I came home at about 12h20 and a few minutes later our dogs started to bark. Then I heard a vehicle pull away but didn't see it. We had an appointment with the vet so we let the dogs out to pee before we left at 12h40. The dogs stayed in the house.

Soon after we returned from the vet at about 15h30 one of our dogs started to convulse and vomit. We immediately took him to the same vet who realised that he had been poisoned, probably with an organophosphate (which we don't use) and treated him. This saved his life although he suffered a stroke and still has not recovered 100%. Given that the time between eating a poison and showing effects is about 3 hours for an organophosphate, there is a strong probability that the car I heard was involved.

We reported this to the local maire and to the gendarmes, but clearly there was no real chance of finding the person(s) responsible.

2 On the evening of 6th of April we had a meeting of the NALA club (name of our association) which was announced on our website. When we returned home we discovered that one of our chickens had disappeared. There was a trail of her feathers leading from the chicken house to the front gate. Another chicken had her tail feathers squeezed together with some brown substance coating them as if they had been crushed in a dirty hand.

We reported this to the gendarmes, although with no expectation of finding the guilty party.

3 On Thursday 6th September one of our cats was run over. It's the first time in the ten years that we've been here. On the same day a cat belonging to the ex-President of our association disappeared. Two days later another one of our cats disappeared

Update 24 July 2017

You can understand that we did not feel safe anymore in this country. Cats locked in the house, geese, ducks and chickens behind the fence; it had become an unmanageable situation that made us decide to move to Belgium. We stayed there for 3 months.

For several reasons we returned to the Vendée. Since then, we still had some problems: hunters and their dogs on our land, but in general it was rather quiet. We filed a complaint with video evidence but of course the complaint was not pursued. For all the animals we have created fenced in areas where they can live safely, and we lock them up every night to make sure no harm is done. Some even come into our house every night, the chickens. There are CCTV cameras everywhere on our land. And when we leave there is always someone at home. Is it really what one calls "living like a GOD in France"?

Update 2 15 January 2019

Since last year the presence of hunters around and on our property has increased again. Another complaint has been sent to the maire and the police. We asked a lawyer to help us.