I am from Bilbao, although I have lived for half my life, intermittently, outside the Basque Country. When I talk to people around me about issues of a certain depth, people often tell me things like “well, you are much more advanced in Euskadi than here”. I have also often read these types of comments on networks, for example on the occasion of general elections or various demonstrations of social movements.
Regarding animal protection, despite the fact that there are territories in the Basque Country that continue to blush for the enjoyment of activities that involve serious forms of abuse, the truth is that we were not bad. In fact, the current Animal Protection Law was a great advance at the time: “In 1993 the Basque administrative law already covered what the Penal Code in its last reform of 2015”, recalls María G. Lacabex, a lawyer specialized in Animal Law and member of INTERcids.
On September 23, 2021, the plenary session of the Basque Parliament unanimously approved the taking into consideration of the proposed law that will replace the current one. Although this draft is being sold by the Basque Government as a great advance, the truth is that it has triggered the alarms of animal protection entities and legal professionals, who denounce that it constitutes, in some areas, a clear setback.
A law doggist?
The EAJ-PNV parliamentarian Luis Javier Tellería said in plenary session that “this is a depoliticized issue, with a very marked social character”; something that can only be agreed with. But, where is that transversal character that the protection of animals should have when legislating only and exclusively for pets?
Ana Moreno, president of the association Haiekin considers that “as its own name already establishes, it will only be for companion animals. All others will be excluded: horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, etc. No case of animal abuse that occurs, for example, in the cavalcades of the Olentzero, Reyes or any other show with animals. If this new proposal goes ahead, any horse will be protected in each municipality bordering the Basque Country, but not in the Basque Country. ”
Also for the lawyer Lacabex this is cause for concern: “Although there is specific legislation for animals of species destined for productive and exploitation purposes, it does not protect them against many forms of abuse and abandonment, about which unfortunately there is a lot of casuistry in Euskadi “, it indicates. “The current Basque law, although of course it could be improved in many aspects, provided these animals with an umbrella of protection that now, erroneously and unjustifiably, it seems to want to deny them”.
Chained dogs, a common sad image that will continue to be produced
“If this text goes ahead, the dogs will continue to live chained in the orchards, since it will not be forbidden that they are permanently tied,” alerts Ana Moreno. Indeed, this practice so widespread in the peoples of the Basque Country and so dire for these social animals whose ethological needs are increasingly known, as shown this AVATMA report, will not be vetoed, contrary to what already happens in the autonomous laws of many other communities.
María G. Lacabex adds that “unfortunately, this practice has historically been widespread, but in recent years it has been increasingly visible through complaints, not only from protective associations but also from citizens themselves.” In his office, AnimalexThey have taken various cases of animal abuse related to this type of situation.
Animals in festivities, defenseless
As they have been denouncing groups such as Askekintza or the photojournalist Aitor Garmendia through, for example, the documentary Gurean, the festivities in which animals are tortured and killed are still celebrated everywhere throughout the Basque Country. Oxen dragging, Lekeitio geese, ram fights or the saddened heifers in which babies who weigh, sometimes less than a dog, are harassed, mistreated and terrorized.
It is disturbing to show that these heifers, for example, are currently outside the regulations for bullfighting shows, as long as they are performed with animals weighing less than 60 kg. This means that the party committee of any town can organize a celebration for little money, which will be attended by boys and girls, and you will not need to ask for any type of permission, or make ambulances available or take out insurance.
As we have seen, with the new animal protection law it will not be possible to protect these animals from the mistreatment inflicted in these practices, something that animal entities had managed to do on some occasions in the past, thanks to the 1993 law.
The dangerous and vague concept of “urban plague”
Another of the red dots in the text of the proposal is the definition of “urban plague”, something that worries both organizations and professionals in the legal field. None of the 17 animal protection laws that exist in the different autonomous communities contemplate this concept, so vague and potentially harmful to animals.
Lawyer Lacabex recalls that decisions that may lead to the slaughter and death of animals should not contain even a minimum of arbitrariness. “The obligation to motivate all administrative acts must be applied in an absolutely forceful way and be provided for by law, not with vague or indeterminate terms, but very clear,” he says. “The articles of the bill that is being processed, as they are now drafted, can give rise to very dangerous voids and favor unjustified practices that involve the death of animals,” he adds.
Ana Moreno points out that with this future law “it will be a technician who will decide which animals form a plague and, therefore, will be euthanized. Taking into account the narrow definition of ‘companion animal’, only dogs, cats and ferrets that are in or come from an address “.
The feline colonies
Although not everything is backward movement in the text of the proposal and there are aspects in which the Basque Country would be at the height of the times, such as the inclusion of feline colonies and the provision of ethical methods for the population control of species in urban environments. “But the responsibility for the management of urban feline colonies cannot fall, as is derived from the text as it is written, on the volunteering that, in an organized and authorized way, contributes to it in a solidary and altruistic way, for the benefit of the general interest “, indicates María G. Lacabex. “The management of urban feline colonies is a responsibility that corresponds to the Public Administration,” he warns.
Many municipalities currently manage the feline colonies of their municipalities, which brings multiple benefits at the level of coexistence and public health. However, Ana Moreno warns of the danger that these colonies could be considered pests. “If a municipal technician considers that these animals generate any damage, he will have the tool to slaughter them unceremoniously. That can also happen with any other animal, since it is established in several articles that the sacrifice of animals that are considered plagues will be allowed” .
What can we do?
The treaties in this article are just some of the points that concern animal protection organizations and professionals. The proposed law will now go through the usual procedures, which include the commissions in which experts will have the opportunity to intervene and present their positions, and the subsequent opening of the term for allegations. The idea is that the new law is approved in the spring.
We are facing a real danger that Euskadi, which is a pioneer in so many things and was a pioneer in its legislation to protect animals, is now left behind. María G. Lacabex points out that “after almost 30 years of the law for the protection of animals in the Basque Country, any reform that is now being sought cannot be allowed to go backwards. It must be committed to a law that takes as a starting point everything achieved with the above, and that from there it incorporates the necessary improvements, in light of the scientific, legal and social advances that have taken place during these three decades ”
“We need a new law that provides the necessary tools for a quantitative and qualitative change in animal welfare, and that offers us the possibility of effectively attacking animal abuse,” concludes Ana Moreno.
A petition on Change.org which has already reached almost 35,000 signatures warning about the danger of taking serious steps backwards in the protection of animals in the Basque Country.