A new Spanish law recognising animal sentience means that pets are no longer considered “objects”

Author: Helen Greaves

Read Time:   |  6th December 2021

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Wild and domesticated animals have been afforded more rights with the passing of a bill that recognises animals’ sentience in Spain.


Spain has become the latest country to recognise animals’ sentience with the passing of new legislation.

The bill has been in consideration for a long time after first being introduced in 2017.

It did not appear before congress until earlier this year, finally passing Spain’s upper house in September.

Under the bill, Spain has seen an amendment to the country’s civil code which recognises animals are “living beings endowed with sentience” rather than “things” or “moveable property.”

Wild animals are included in the new law, but the main focus is on greater legal protections for domesticated animals, particularly in family disputes.

Spain’s new animal rights legislation

The new law passed with majority approval, except by the country’s far-right Vox party, which opposed the legislation.

The law updates Spain’s Civil Code, Mortgage Law, and Civil Procedure Law – relating to conflicts about family and property.

In the case of a divorce or separation, an animal’s overall wellbeing must first be addressed before being separated from the animal’s owners.

The impact of the new law could be far-reaching, considering that around 30,000 married couples with pets are divorced every year in Spain, according to Euro Weekly News.

María González Lacabex of INTERcids, an animal welfare organization says, “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,”

Further protection for animals

According to green group Ecologistas en Action, three animals are abandoned every five minutes in Spain – amounting to 300,000 every year.

Under the new law, animals cannot be abandoned. Nor can they be captured or mistreated.

Moreover, companion animals and farm animals can no longer be seized as assets in the case of unpaid debts.

The legislation also addresses companion animals’ mental and physical health.

The Animal League Defense Fund quotes the bill: “Expenses for the healing and care of an animal injured or abandoned by a third party are recoverable by whoever paid them insofar as they have been provided and even if they exceeded the value of the animal.

“In the event that the injury to a pet animal has resulted in its death or in a serious impairment of their physical or psychological health, both its owner and those who live with the animal are entitled to compensation for the moral damage caused.”

However, the new law does not address other instances of animal cruelty, namely bullfighting.

The cruel practice of bullfighting is already banned in at least 100 towns in Spain, according to animal rights group PETA. But it’s still legal in the country.

Animal sentience worldwide

Spain joins a growing list of countries that recognise animals as sentient beings.

In November, the UK amended its Animal Welfare Bill to give additional protections to crustaceans and cephalopods, like octopuses and lobsters, the sentience of which was previously unrecognised.

Other countries to pass similar laws include France, Brussels, Australia, and New Zealand.

Passionate about pets? Read about ethically adopting animals in the UK.

Written by

Helen Greaves

Helen has been vegan since 2018 and has a background in vegan food marketing and social media. She's mother to a mischief of rats, and loves to spend her spare time making vegan cakes and bakes.

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