Spain Grants Animals the Same Rights as Humans In Update to Civil Code

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Spain has passed new legislation that increases animals’ rights. Domestic pets and wild animals will no longer be treated as objects in the eyes of the law. The news was celebrated by animal rights groups who had campaigned for the change. 

Proposals were lodged in 2017 to increase animals’ rights in Spain. Last month saw the Congress of Deputies approve new legislation, with wide support. The notable exception was far-right party Vox, who voted to throw out the bill. Party leader Ángel López Maraver commented that the law is: “insanity, nonsense, stupidity. It humanises animals and dehumanises man.”

A cultural shift

New legislation means that animals have the same rights as humans, being deemed “living beings”. Animals were already considered sentient under European law, but the Spanish Civil Code had not been updated. This relates directly to matters of family and property. Wild animals have been included in the adaptation, though focus is mostly on domestic companions.

Animals have always been considered objects in Spanish law. Being granted living being status means they will now have to be considered akin to children in cases of divorce or inheritance. The welfare of individual animals will now be taken into consideration when deciding on a permanent home. Joint custody will be a possibility, with shared maintenance costs being given consideration. The move is designed to honour the bond between a family and its pets.

The legislation could prove impactful. It has been reported that around 30,000 couples divorce every year in Spain, plus common law relationship breakdowns. 

Spain joins fellow European countries France, Portugal, Germany and Austria in recognising animals in this way. The country is also conflicted about its legacy of bullfighting. In 2019, a poll for El Español revealed that 56.4 percent of Spanish people were against the practice.

Consequences for non-compliance

The penalties for not respecting the new law are serious. Mistreatment of pets will now be judged as if a human has been abused. Upon finding an abandoned pet, individuals have a duty to try to locate the owner, via relevant authorities if necessary. The same course of action is to be taken as if a child has been found. Animals can no longer be seized as payment for debts, either.

The bill makes specific reference to recompense in the event of an animal’s death: “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.”

The bill requires mental and physical wellbeing to be taken into account. The change is a dramatic revision of Spain’s former treatment of animals. “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,” said Lola García, civil rights lawyer, speaking with La Vanguardia.

Animals to the front

Spain’s new legislation comes as many other countries begin to analyse animals and their contribution to the world. 


The UK now admits octopuses, lobsters and crabs are sentient beings. The paradigm shift means that they, along with other sea creatures, will no longer be boiled alive. In the U.S., animals have been recognised as legal persons and China is changing too. Historically a country at odds with animal rights, China reclassified dogs as pets, not livestock in 2020.


All images courtesy of Pexels.

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