French dump cats as bird flu panic takes hold

9th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

BRIGNAIS, France, March 8, 2006 (AFP) - It's been a busy few days at the animal shelter in this southeastern French town as bird flu panic has prompted increasing numbers of cat owners to dump their pets.

BRIGNAIS, France, March 8, 2006 (AFP) - It's been a busy few days at the animal shelter in this southeastern French town as bird flu panic has prompted increasing numbers of cat owners to dump their pets.

"In two days we picked up 50 abandoned cats in the region," said Gino Bradet, director of the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) shelter in the town of Brignais, west of Lyon.

If the chorus of barking dogs is the first sound to greet visitors to the grey-walled facility, cat filled cages are the first thing they see.

"Ordinarily we would pick up 10 cats a day maximum," explains Bradet, who has worked here since 1992 and says the shelter has had to open buildings that are usually closed this time of year to house the extra cats.

Shelter employees say most of the cats were left anonymously by their owners. But even owners who did bother to stick around would hardly admit to fears of bird flu.

"People told us stories of allergies or divorce," said shelter employee Danielle Merle.

"Only one person Saturday had the courage to admit that he was leaving his cat because of bird flu," added Merle.

Brignais lies just southwest of the department of l'Ain, where bird flu killed more than 400 turkeys on a farm late last month.

The French government has ordered cats in the infected area to be kept indoors.

Three cats have died from bird flu in Germany and two Austrian cats caught but survived the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease.

A German minister claimed Wednesday that bird flu was moving closer to infecting humans in Europe after the death of the last two German cats.

While the World Health Organization says there is no evidence that cats can be involved in the spread of the disease, that message seems to have gone unheeded by Brignais' cat owners.

But media attention has helped mitigate the situation, says Bradet.

"After word got out, a number of people came to adopt a cat," said the 45-year-old shelter director.

"On Tuesday we registered 10 cases of abandonment, but 20 adoptions. That's heart-warming."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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