Animals in Spain awarded new legal status as ‘sentient beings’ rather than things

DOMESTIC animals are now recognised as ‘sentient beings’ and no longer considered ‘objects’ in Spain, after new legislation was passed in a parliamentary vote on Thursday December 2.

Previously, animals had the same legal status as inanimate objects but the new legislation will mean that domestic or wild animals cannot be mistreated, seized or abandoned. 

The law specifically focuses on the ‘wellbeing and protection’ of animals in custody cases, but does not tackle the controversial Spanish tradition of bullfighting. 

Animal sentience is defined by the RSPCA as ‘the capacity of an animal to experience different feelings such as suffering or pleasure. Negative feelings or emotions include pain, fear, boredom and frustration, whilst positive emotions include contentment and joy.’

The new legislation addresses companion animal’s mental and physical health; they along with farm animals can no longer be seized as assets for unpaid debts.

The law updates the Civil Code, Mortgage Law and Civil Procedure Law which relate to conflicts about family and property.

The law was first proposed in 2017, but due to the disruption of two recent general elections it was not until last week that it was finally passed by Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies.

The new law fills a gap surrounding an animal’s legal framework in issues relating to property, family and obligations in the Spanish Criminal Code which meant lawyers did not know how to address pets in divorce cases.

The legislation won cross-party support with the only dissent coming from far right party Vox. 

Lawmaker Angel Lopez Maraver, who is the former president of the Spanish Hunting Federation and an MP for Vox described the law as “insanity, nonsense, stupidity. It humanizes animals and dehumanizes man.”Spain is also preparing a far reaching new animal welfare bill which will see pet shops banned from selling animals and impose strict rules on pet care.

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