An international animal welfare organisation has welcomed an EU decision to recognise stray cats and dogs should not be classified as wild animals.

Since the first draft of the new animal health law was released, Four Paws has warned about misuse of the term “wild” when referring to stray animals and had launched a Wild? Me? Campaign.

The classification would have given strays significantly lower legal protection than kept companion animals and could, in some situations, have offered legal grounds for hunters to shoot at them.

Now the European Parliament, EU Council and the Commission have agreed that although the “wild” and “kept” definitions will remain in the law, a clause will be added, stating stray animals are not wild, and that critical definition of wild animals will apply only to this law.

The new regulation will replace and encompass most of the existing EU legislation on animal health. It distinguishes between animals that are kept as pets and those that are stray without an owner, attributing homeless cats and dogs a lower level of legal protection than “kept” ones. It was feared 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 distinguishes strays from other non-kept animals.

The latest draft also includes other improvements for animal welfare, such as a safeguard clause for stray population management programmes, which states they have to be performed in a humane way, avoiding pain and distress for the animals, and also they have to be proportionate to the health risk posed by the population issue.

Four Paws still has concerns about welfare issues, but particularly welcomes the introduction of mandatory registration of all professional breeders and sellers of animals.

Julie Sanders, country manager for Four Paws UK, said: “We welcome this initiative, which will help to reduce irresponsible breeding and reduce overpopulation and abandonment of companion 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.”

The 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.

Four Paws hopes by increasing control and redefining responsibilities, the new law might discourage member states from adopting systematic culling programmes of stray animals, which it says often take place without transparency and prior consultation.

The European Parliament is expected to give the law final approval in November.

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