Spain has given pets the same legal status as humans in a sign of growing support for animal rights in the home of bullfighting.
Domestic animals will be considered “living beings” under Spanish law instead of mere objects as has been the case until now.
This will mean that dogs or cats must be considered in the same way as children in divorce hearings or when inheritance or debts cases have to be settled by the courts.
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When judges decide who should have the family dog, they also must consider the welfare of the animal as they would do if they were dealing with children.
Shared custody of the pet will be an option open to judges in divorce hearings, who must also decide who pays for vet bills and food of the animal.
In Spain, 49.3 per cent of Spanish homes have a pet, but the country also has the fourth highest rate of divorce in the European Union, according to the Fundacion Affinity, a petcare company.
Under the new law, mistreatment of pets will also be regarded as a crime as if the owner had abused another person.
If someone finds an abandoned pet, they have a public duty to try to locate the owner or inform the authorities as they would do if they came across a lost child.
Spain joins France, Germany, Austria and Portugal which are the other European countries which have given pets the same legal status.
“This shows that we are changing our mentality and see animals as living beings with the capacity to feel pain, happiness, sadness and are nothing to do with a piece of furniture or a show,” Lola García, a lawyer who specialises in civil rights, told La Vanguardia newspaper.
The pet law change was introduced by the Socialists and the far-left Unidas Podemos party and was backed by all other parties, except the far-right Vox party.
Sandra Guaita, a Socialist MP, who presented the law to the parliament, said anyone who opposed the change would “deny the pain and suffering of animals”.
“We should accept that animals are not objects, they are living beings which feel and suffer,” she said.
The new law comes as support in Spain for bullfighting has been on the wane in recent years. While some Spaniards consider it as part of the nation’s culture, others condemn it as cruel.
A 2019 poll for El Español, an online newspaper, found 56.4 per cent of Spanish people were against bull-fighting, while 24.7 per cent were in favour and 18.9 per cent were indifferent.