Not a few parents have fallen for the “If we get a pet, I’ll look after it, you won’t have to do a thing, I promise” line that little kids are so quick with when they want a puppy or a kitten. Mine tried to pull the trick on me almost 12 years ago, and it sort of worked, although I’d already been thinking about getting a dog for some time before that.
As I guessed would happen, the excitement about having a puppy in the house eventually wore off. After more than a decade, Toby is very much a beloved family member, and to be fair everyone chips in and helps to look after him, but I am the main caregiver by some margin and over the years that has taken up a great deal of my time and energy.
Not that there isn’t a pay-off. I love having a dog, and living in the countryside and working at home means that both of us have managed to get the most out of our relationship. With very few exceptions, each morning for as long as I can remember the two of us have been on a brisk hour-long walk that has helped keep us in shape. It’s just one example of how the dog has improved my life, and there are many more, but while having a pet is rewarding, doing the job properly requires time, patience, money and commitment.
Which brings me to Spain’s new animal welfare law that is the subject of our feature starting on page 8. When the legislation comes into force later this year, it will establish new norms aimed at improving the situation of animals under the care of humans. Or most of them, but we’ll come to that later. I find it hard to argue, for example, against rules that oblige dog owners to show they can look after their pets or that penalise people for leaving dogs tied up or alone for extended periods. Meanwhile, cat sterilisation will be compulsory, especially to prevent the proliferation of feral cats and there will be some species of animals that can no longer be taken as pets.
Where the legislation has come in for criticism is its exclusion of working dogs, particularly hunting dogs. Animal rights protestors argue that hunting dogs are just dogs and so deserve the same protection as non-working dogs, and they accuse the government of a lack of courage in failing to stand up to powerful interests in rural regions where there are also votes to lose. That’s probably true, and to make matters worse it is hunting dogs of all dogs that need legal protection the most, as they are among the animals most commonly and severely mistreated.
There are other aspects of the law to criticise, such as the removal of prison sentences as a punishment for abusing animals in favour of fines and community service or that it doesn’t cover bullfighting bulls. Yet as a first step I think it should be welcomed and we should not be surprised that political interests get in the way of doing the right thing. It’s the way things work in our system, but so is amending and enhancing laws once they are on the books, and this law, imperfect though it is, improves the situation of most animals in Spain.