The Animal Welfare Law promoted by Minister Ione Belarra and approved in Congress with the votes of PSOE, Podemos, ERC and Bildu has introduced an important change in the Spanish Penal Code by changing the term ‘domestic animal’ to ‘vertebrate animal’. A vertebrate animal is any animal that has bones and an articulated skeleton or backbone. Now, under the new law, striking, injuring or killing a vertebrate animal will be punishable by imprisonment or a fine.
The modification of the penal code proposed by Ione Belarra’s team and supported by the PSOE leads to absurdities in its application that have been noted with astonishment by the veterinary associations – which have not even been consulted – or by the General Council of the Judiciary: killing with a broom a mouse that sneaks into your house can carry a penalty of up to 18 months in prison.
The amendment to the penal code approved by the Spanish Congress imposes a “prison sentence of six to eighteen months, or community service of between eighteen and twenty-four months” for anyone who causes the death of a non-domestic vertebrate animal. The category of vertebrate animal includes any animal that has a skeleton with a vertebral column and skull, so killing a fish, a mouse, a dog or a lizard is punishable in the same way. Killing a snake that slithers into the garden would also carry a prison sentence of between six and eighteen months, according to this rule.
The amendment also means that if we hit a mouse or rat that enters the house and do not kill it but cause injuries that require veterinary attention, we could face a prison sentence of between three and 12 months if we are reported to the police.
Belarra’s Animal Law also provides for fines to be applied when the animal is “seriously mistreated without causing injury”. This creates a problem of interpretation and application: how can an animal be seriously mistreated without causing injury? This problem was pointed out by the Ciudadanos member of parliament Guillermo Díaz in Congress: “A dangerous path is opened in terms of presumptions when mistreatment without injury is criminalised. This is very dangerous for the legal certainty required by the Penal Code”.
For mistreatment without injury, “a penalty of a fine of one to two months or community service of one to thirty days” will be imposed. The president of the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation, Manuel Gallardo, stated in declarations to this newspaper that someone could be denounced in this case for “speaking badly to the dog or pulling the leash abruptly”.