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20,000 French cats stolen by rustlers

MORE THAN 20,000 cats a year are being stolen in France, many ending up as babies' shoes or slippers. Animal lovers believe the rustling is the work of professionally organised gangs that work with almost complete impunity. Police say they have little time to devote to such a low-profile crime.

It is feared some cats are being stolen to provide victims to train attack dogs or to amuse their sadistic owners. Others are taken for their fur. A raid on a tannery in Deux-Sevres, western France, discovered 1,500 skins, which were being used to make babies' shoes.

Anne Vesgien, a cat lover who is a magistrate and head of an association campaigning for better legal status for pets in France and other EU countries, said: "These offences ... can lead to acts of ... barbarity, even if many people seem to find the whole thing funny. We move heaven and earth for a stolen car or painting but in these cases nothing is done."

A Socialist MP and vet, Genevieve Perrin-Gaillard, is to press for tougher laws on identification of cats and dogs to give authorities more weapons against pet rustlers. By law all cats and dogs have to be tattooed with their identity before they can be sold or given to another person, but it has proved impossible to enforce.

A bereaved cat-owner in Toulouse told Le Figaro: "A neighbour saw a white car stop in front of our house. A young woman ... caught my cat in a sheet and then shoved it into a basket. The car drove away quickly ... since then we can only imagine the worst."

The equivalent of the RSPCA says it has been inundated with reports of stolen cats. Some have strayed but it reckons the number of suspicious cases to be at least 20,000 a year and rising.