Spain animal welfare
Spain has passed a new animal welfare law recognizing animals as sentient beings. | PeopleImages/Getty Images

Spanish Law No Longer Considers Animals ‘Objects’

Under Spain's new law, animals will now be recognized as sentient beings.

Spain has passed a new animal welfare law recognizing animals as sentient beings. The country will no longer consider pets and wild animals as “objects,” according to the legislation.

Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, passed the new law. It received majority approval, except by the country’s far-right Vox party, which opposed the legislation.

Animals will now have greater legal protections under the law. Although wild animals are included in the legislation, it largely protects domesticated animals. In the case of a divorce or separation, an animal’s overall wellbeing must first be addressed before it’s separated from its owners. The law also makes it illegal for animals to be mistreated or abandoned.

“It’s a step forward and it says that in separations and divorces, the arrangement that will be applied to the animals will take into account not only the interests of the humans, but also of the animal,” María González Lacabex explained. González is a member of INTERcids, an animal welfare organization.

The law updates Spain’s Civil Code, Mortgage Law, and Civil Procedure Law. It was first introduced back in 2017. However, it did not appear before Congress until this year—passing Spain’s upper house in September—due to political upheaval caused during the country’s 2019 general elections.

Spain’s animal welfare laws

Prior to the law’s passage, a judge in Madrid granted joint custody of a dog to a couple going through a separation. 

While this ruling was rare, the law will be a permanent step forward for domesticated animals like dogs and cats. In the case of divorces, Guillermo Díaz, a Ciudadanos lawmaker, explained that prior to the law’s passage, “animals were not considered different from a television.”

“Those who are violent against animals are potentially violent against humans as well,” he added. “We are the only species that recognizes the suffering of others. And as such, we have an obligation to prevent that suffering.”

But the new law does not address other instances of animal cruelty, namely bullfighting. Bullfighting is inherently cruel to animals. It is already banned in at least 100 towns in Spain, according to animal rights group PETA. But it’s still legal in the country.

Spain joins a growing list of countries in recognizing animals as sentient beings. In November, the UK amended its Animal Welfare Bill to give additional protections to cephalopod mollusks and decapod crustaceans, the sentience of which was previously unrecognized. In 2019, the Australian Capital Territory became the first jurisdiction in Australia to recognize animals as sentient beings. Other countries to pass similar laws include ​​France, Brussels, and New Zealand.