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In a bid to up its game in protecting the welfare of domestic animals, Spain’s Ministry for Social Rights is planning to ban the sale of all pets in shops, except for fish; to scrap the labelling of dogs as potentially dangerous, and to keep track of people unfit to care for a domestic animal.

Dogs and other pets will only be available for purchase from professional breeders or animal shelters – a move followed by a surge of “compulsive buying” of animals that, if already existent pre-pandemic, was exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdowns.

Francis Ciudad, president of the Association of Initiatives for Animal Welfare (Aiba), in the outskirts of Madrid, told the Spanish paper El Confidencial they received several requests for adoption during the first Covid lockdown, which they rejected.

“During that time, we decided not to give animals up for adoption,” Francis said.

“Firstly, because there was no mobility and it was complicated.

“Secondly, because they wanted to have an animal but they were not objective enough as they were motivated by a sudden sense of loneliness.

“The worst thing is when it is done without thinking.

“This is why we do interviews, where people often realise they don’t really want an animal.”

Other important elements of the bill are the end of culling of healthy pets; a limit of five pets per household or the obligation to register as a zoological nucleus if there are more; and a new rule regarding the number of hours pets can be left unwatched. The maximum alone-time for dogs will be 24 hours; for cats and ferrets, viewed as slightly more independent animals, 72 hours.

Ione Belarra, Minister for Social Rights, described the aimed changes as an end to the “cruel enjoyment of animals”.

Yet there remains “a lot to be done”, she said.

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Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities. They all rely on the central government to a certain extent, but many of their laws differ.

A domestic animal does currently not enjoy the same rights, for instance, in Barcelona (part of the autonomous community of Catalonia) as in Seville (part of the autonomous community of Andalusia).

The main purpose of the bill, which still has a long legislative process to go through before being sent to the Congress of Deputies in January 2022, is to unify the essential laws concerning animal welfare.

Cockfighting, pigeon shooting and clay pigeon shooting will all be banned on a national level, and the use of wild animals, including lions and tigers, for circus shows, will be a thing of the past.

The ultimate goal of the project is to achieve “zero abandonment” and “zero sacrifices”. The two, however, are intertwined – the former often leading to the latter.

Around 50 percent of pets are currently unidentified, the Ministry estimates. When an unregistered pet is abandoned — which is the case for hundreds of thousands, though data from different organisations in Spain show such contrasting figures that the exact numbers are unclear — they are only kept at shelters for 20 to 25 days. If they aren’t adopted after that, they are sacrificed.

To encourage the registration of pets, in the hope to stop this vicious circle, a new system will be put in place for pets as well as for animals at zoos and professionals breeders.

A controversial part of the bill is the compulsory sterilisation for pets when two or more animals of the same species and different sexes co-live under the same roof. To prevent the uncontrolled reproduction of pets, domestic animals that don’t share a home with others but have access to the outdoors, such as cats, will have to be sterilised, too.

Ms Belarra sees the establishment of a new animal welfare framework as something “basic”. She said: “Avoiding harm to other living beings is to protect against feeling indifferent towards the pain of others.

“Treating animals well makes us better people.”

The Ministry is hoping the law will come into force in January 2023 and expects it to include penalties of up to €600,000 for serious offenders.

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