Among other requisites, the new law will ban docking or removing tails, cutting ears and de-clawing unless they are for purely medical reasons, meaning these practices for aesthetic means, to stop cats ruining furniture or to make hunting hounds more aggressive by slicing their ears off will now be outlawed.
Anyone who attempts to carry out any of these operations on their domestic animals will be refused by the vet.
The law was due to go live in Spain 10 years ago, but the right-wing PP – then in opposition – blocked it by pushing for an amendment allowing de-clawing, tail-removal and ear-cutting to still be allowed.
This amendment was instantly rejected by the then socialist (PSOE) government, and the impasse was never resolved.
Now with the reigning PP government in a minority, it has been overruled on the ‘cosmetic surgery’ aspect.
In fact, other than sterilisation, no other surgery may be carried out on domestic animals except for therapeutic means.
The law, which will come into force in Spain on February 1, 2018 – having been approved in Strasbourg on November 13, 1987 – will also require authorities to actively promote dogs and cats being sterilised, a practice that remains shrouded in urban myth in Spain.
Many pet-owners still believe neutering or spaying their cats and dogs makes them ‘fat and lazy’, although medically, there is no evidence that doing so makes any difference to animals’ body weight or behaviour; in fact, those who sterilise their pets in an attempt to calm them down are usually disappointed.
Another common misconception is that dogs and cats are more vulnerable to infection if sterilised – in fact, the opposite is true, since females are more likely to be ‘raped’ if they go outside and males more likely to get into fights, causing injuries that could lead to infection.
Thirdly, dog and cat owners often believe that females ‘should have at least one litter’ to prevent her suffering infection or illness, or for her physical wellbeing; a belief that often leads to newborns being dumped on the street at a few days old.
Other ‘old wives’ tales’ that abound include sterilisation being ‘cruel’ or ‘a violation of the animal’s rights’, or that northern European countries automatically spay and neuter pets because they consider genitals on display to be ‘unsightly’.
All governments and local councils will be required by law to debunk these myths and urge owners to have their pets neutered or spayed as soon as they are old enough, unless they are due to be used for breeding.
Breeding will also be controlled by authorities, particularly where it is for commercial reasons.
The law regulates general animal care and requires councils and governments to actively carry out informative and educational campaigns about responsible and ethical pet maintenance.
It also covers requisites for rescuing and care of animals which are mistreated, abandoned, lost or otherwise strays.
No animal may be put to sleep except by a vet or other properly-trained person, unless it is necessary to put a creature out of its misery in an emergency and it is not possible to get a vet to the scene in time.
Where this is the case, the animal should be put out of its suffering as rapidly as possible and with the minimum mental and physical distress.
Pet trainers must be qualified and have the necessary knowlede, pets may not be given to under-16s without their parents’ or guardians’ consent, and animals may never be given as prizes or rewards.
At present, animal welfare rules are a postcode lottery, since Spain’s 17 autonomously-governed regions all have different laws.
One of the most forward-thinking in this respect is Catalunya, where every town is required to have a council-run shelter for strays or ill-treated pets with a no-kill policy – no animals put to sleep except when they are suffering incurably – which must be funded by local authorities and is not allowed to refuse any animals brought in.
Catalunya also banned bull-fighting many years ago, as did the Canary Islands.
Many towns in Spain have systems in place for supporting local residents who feed feral cat colonies – financial assistance with buying food, and agreements with vets to set up ‘trap, neuter, return’ (TNR) programmes, whilst other towns simply ban feral-feeding outright and offer no support at all, have no shelters in place and even make a charge for taking in stray dogs found outside of ‘office hours’.
These rules will now all be streamlined to ensure minimum standards across the country, so that animals’ welfare does not have to depend upon where they happen to have been born.