On December 16, 2021, Law 17/2021 of December 15, 2021, which amends provisions of Spain’s Civil Code, Law on Mortgage, and Law on Civil Procedure regarding the legal regime of animals, was published in Spain’s official gazette and reportedly was to enter into force on January 5, 2022.
The new law amends the Civil Code to provide that animals may no longer be considered things but sentient beings and family members, and that animal owners are now required to provide proper care to ensure their animals’ well-being in accordance with the characteristics of each species.
The new provisions also protect an animal from being seized, abandoned, mistreated, or removed from one of its owners in case of a separation or divorce. Moreover, the law provides that a judge may rule against granting joint child custody to a partner if there is well-founded evidence that the partner has committed domestic or gender violence, including mistreating or threatening to harm animals as a means of vicariously controling or victimizing the other partner or their children.
Law 17/2021 provides for shared custody of animals in cases of separation in a marriage or partnership. Accordingly, a court may modify the conditions of an animal’s care and how the costs of the pet’s expenses will be shared between the two parties, and even decide on its custody in case of disagreement.
Pets can also now be considered in wills, but if they are not, they will be handed over to the heir who claims them. If more than one heir claims a pet and there is no unanimous agreement on its fate, the judicial authority will decide its fate, taking into account the welfare of the animal. If none of the heirs are willing to take care of them, the administration can hand them over to a third party for their care and protection.
Under the new provisions, whoever finds a lost animal must return it to its owner or whoever is responsible for its care, unless there are well-founded indications of abuse or neglect, when it will be brought to the attention of the competent authorities. A person who returns a lost animal to the owner or person responsible for its care can claim expenses for its treatment and care.
Under the amendment to the Law on Mortgage, animals from livestock, industrial, or recreational farms will not be included in mortgages and may not be seized, while the amendment to the Law on Civil Procedure prevents companion animals from being seized to cover unpaid debts.
According to Professor Nuria Máximo, director of the Professorship of Animals and Society at the Rey Juan Carlos University, these changes reflect how society is changing its vision of the way animals should be treated. Animal protection associations, such as the Observatory for Animal Justice and Defense, were instrumental in collecting signatures in support of the bill for Law 17/2021.Spain’s move to enact similar legislation to “de-objectivize” and increase protection for animals follows the trend of other countries or territories in Europe (Austria in 1986, Germany in 1990, Switzerland in 2003, Catalonia in 2006, Belgium in 2009, France in 2015, and Portugal in 2017), as well as countries outside the continent, such as Canada and New Zealand.