A new bill on animal sentience recently passed in the Congress of Deputies in Spain that allows non-farm animals the protections of “sentient beings.”
The distinction between seeing an animal as sentient, versus an inanimate object, by the law will impact legal decisions regarding the seizure, abandonment, and mistreatment of domestic and wild animals alike.
Under the new law, custody of pets in a divorce case will also be taken into account on a legal level, where a judge can rule what may be the best for the pets and owners alike.
According to El Pais, the Spanish Criminal Code already had legislation regarding animal sentience, but the Spanish Civil Code had yet to adapt such changes – until now.
Because there were already animal sentience laws in place, the Spanish Civil Code’s new bill will mostly impact animal welfare cases regarding property, family, and divorce. El Pais reported that Guillermo Diaz, with the Citizens Spanish political party, stated that until this new law passed, “animals were not considered different from a television” in regards to custody battles or other civil legal issues.
The new bill came with a lot of support across the country, and the world, with few Spanish opponents. One of the only contesters of the bill was Angel Lopez Maraver, former president of the Spanish Hunting Federation, who felt the bill was “insanity, nonsense, stupidity,” citing that it humanizes animals.
Animal sentience has been under fire lately. In fact, the UK officially recognized squid, lobsters, and octopuses as sentient.
Sentience is the ability to feel and experience emotions, including joy, pain, and fear. According to a 2013 scientific review: “[Sentience] is animals’ capacity to feel both positive and negative states that drives the animal welfare movement and is the reason why animal protection laws exist.”
Until more countries officially recognize all animals as sentient and offer them protection under the law, you can make a difference by calling lawmakers to push for change and by avoiding industries that cause suffering to sentient animals, like the animal agriculture industry and the animal entertainment industry.
It can be easy to feel a disconnect between animals’ sentience and our own sentience, which makes it even more important to have legislation that offers protection to those without a voice.
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