“Animal abuse, to the Penal Code!”. If he has participated in demonstrations in defense of animals, surely he has once chanted this slogan loudly. Until just two decades ago, it was an essential claim in our country, because here you could do practically any barbarity to an animal without assuming any responsibility. How much has the landscape changed in this time?
By shouting it out, and thanks to the tireless work of activists, entities and professionals, today animal abuse is a crime in the Criminal Code that as such must be prosecuted, investigated, prosecuted and sentenced. The articles that contemplate it (337 and 337bis) have been reformed on several occasions in order to adapt them to the social reality. The last reform was approved in 2015. However, the penalties are still insufficient, the application of the law is too lax and impunity is enormous.
‘The dossier of horrors’, the tip of the iceberg
In 2020, the Franz Weber Foundation began to collect acts of cruelty against animals that occurred in our country during the health crisis. With the collaboration of more than 200 organizations, a ‘The dossier of horrors’a document that includes 100 cases of animal abuse and abandonment that are, although they seem extreme, the reality of our day to day life in Spain.
He tied two puppies around their necks with a stone and drowned them in a reservoir. He burned a cat’s face with a blowtorch. He violently stamped his dog on the ground for relieving her at home. They tied up a dog, taped his snout shut and let him suffocate to death while they recorded his agony… all of us who do this know we could go on for pages and pages, but you need to find a balance between showing gravity of this problem and hurt people’s sensibilities even more.
For the first time in decades, a step back in the penal protection of animals
“Changing laws is much easier than changing mentalities,” lawyer Magda Oranich often says. And it is that, for the first time since the inclusion of the crime of animal abuse in our Penal Code, the risk of a step backwards in the protection of animals is a fact. Where does this setback come from when social sensitivity is indisputably advancing?
Groups of legal operators such as those represented by INTERcids and the Coordinator of Professionals for the Prevention of Abuses (CoPPA) already alerted the competent ministries during the processing of the preliminary draft that the text contained very critical points. “Unfortunately, these issues were not corrected, so they remain in the text that is now being processed in the Congress of Deputies. If they are not amended, we would be facing serious setbacks in the classification of crimes against animals”, explains María G. Lacabex, a lawyer specializing in Animal Law.
This regression could be due, on the one hand, to the fact that our political class is giving in to the pressure exerted by those groups that live by mistreating animals and who see their privileges in danger and, on the other, to a mentality anchored in the past of a police and judicial system that, deep down, believes neither in the suitability nor in the importance of these laws that protect animals. How are we going to send someone to jail for a dog?
For Manuel Molina, president of the Balearic Association of Lawyers for Animal Rights (ABADA), there is a “certain political ‘current’ that considers that ‘it is not progressive for criminals to go to prison’. Something utopian and, therefore, nothing realistic or effective to fight against serious and worryingly frequent crimes like the ones we are dealing with”.
Change prison for a fine
“If my dog Rufo could speak, he would say ‘Virgencita, let me stay as I am,'” warns the titular judge of the Investigating Court No. 8 of Ponferrada, Pilar de Lara. In her opinion, the project includes a provision “so disturbing that it nullifies the rest of the virtues that she undoubtedly contemplates.” De Lara refers to the possibility that will allow the judge to choose, in cases of the crime of animal abuse, between a prison sentence —currently the only possibility— or a fine.
Lawyer Lacabex shares this concern. “If the penalties for mistreating animals are already very little relevant today, introducing the fine as an alternative penalty is completely counterproductive. The Fiscal Council itself has warned that this modification would imply a reduction in the dissuasive effect that, among others, the penalties should have, ”she points out.
Judge De Lara, who is also a member of the association of legal operators for animals INTERcids, points out that it would be a measure contrary to the principle of proportionality since “in the field of regional administrative law, animal protection laws impose much higher fines. larger than those that may be imposed in the criminal sphere.”
On the other hand, he adds, the penalty of a fine will benefit the wealthiest economic classes, which are the ones that will be able to pay them. “From the sociological point of view, situations of inequality will be created based on the economic capacity of the perpetrator of the crime, difficult to defend in a society that presumes to be progressive.”
In the opinion of Manuel Molina, “what is truly progressive is that the laws protect the most defenseless. And there is no doubt that non-human animals are, and will continue to be, if the State does not effectively protect them from those who mistreat and torture them”.
Horrors that would go totally unpunished with the new wording of the Penal Code
Oddly enough, acts of animal abuse that are currently considered crimes would go totally unpunished if the reform is approved as it is written at this time. “Cases of mistreatment that entail suffering or result in special cruelty, even if no injuries are caused to the animal or cannot be proven, are now condemnable,” declares María G. Lacabex. “However, with the proposed text they would cease to be, since it is required that an injury always be proven.”
For example, and to continue sticking to the dossier of horrors, case 31, in which two dogs were kept locked up in a ship for several months, or 57, in which three horses and thirteen dogs survived in extreme conditions in a half-ruined corral, they would remain in mere administrative infractions, or perhaps not even that.
Manuel Molina is appearing on behalf of ABADA in the case of the ax death of a mare in Mallorca. “It had been left with a hooked and fractured leg in a grating on a road, blocking the way, so its owner went to get an ax and killed it right there, ripping it apart and dragging its pieces to a nearby farm where he hid them and They were discovered days later by some hikers.”
“I ask for prison,” continues Molina, “but if this draft Penal Code is approved, it will not only affect future cases, but also past ones like that of that poor mare, so her confessed murderer may be sentenced. to a simple fine, of little amount and that you will be able to pay, if you manage to do so, in comfortable monthly installments. What will be the message that the State will give to animal abusers with this new Penal Code? Well, obviously, that ‘nothing happens here’”.
Lacabex recalls how CoPPA presented in 2015 before the Justice Commission an extensive dossier with research results that showed the relationship between sexual behavior with animals and, for example, the sexual abuse of minors.
“In 2015 these sexual behaviors with animals were included as crimes precisely because of their danger, and not only for animals,” says the lawyer. “According to the text that is being processed now, sexual acts against animals will only be punished if an injury to the animal has been caused, and can be proven, decriminalizing behaviors of abuse and sexual exploitation of animals that are now punishable.”
“A real aberration, which in practice means decriminalizing sex with animals when there is no or no injury can be demonstrated,” Molina warns. “That is, to legitimize an abuse practiced with sentient beings that cannot defend themselves, being evident that non-human animals would always be subjected and forced to participate in it against their own nature.”
The seriousness of this change becomes clear when we remember that research in this area reveals that the sexual abuse of animals is closely linked to the commission of aggression towards humans and, in particular, to sexual violence against women and children. “Reckless public policies that reflect permissive attitudes or minimize the importance of sexual abuse of animals fall into negligence; not only in relation to the protection of animals, but also in relation to the protection of citizenship”, they point out from CoPPA.
Animal abuse, a form of violence against all
Judge De Lara considers that we are facing an opportunity to move forward “adapting criminal legislation to the consideration of animals as sentient living beings, in accordance with the recent reform of the Civil Code, expressly including them in crimes against property or in those of threats, given the close relationship between animal and human violence.
Lacabex also speaks in this regard: “Although the project has also incorporated the CoPPA proposal to consider the instrumentalization of animal abuse as a form of violence against people to be aggravating, there is still a very wide margin for the Penal Code to classify and contemplate abuse. to animals also from the perspective of protecting human beings”.
And it is that, to defend animals, we need a comprehensive look. “It is extremely important that parliamentary groups understand animal abuse not as an isolated behavior, but as a form of violence in society that can also have direct implications for people, especially those who are in a situation of vulnerability,” says the lawyer. “Legislation from this perspective is to better protect animals and human beings who are indirectly victims of their mistreatment.”
Related to this, the deprivation of the right to keep and bear arms for those convicted of animal abuse is a proposal formulated by CoPPA and INTERcids that has been introduced in the text “although it still requires an amendment to be correctly configured”, explains Lacabex. . “From both entities we trust that the parliamentary groups collect and approve our request.”
Judge De Lara concludes that, if this reform prospers as it is proposed, “we must not forget the dangerous message that will be transmitted to society about the scant importance that animal protection has for Spanish Law and the discouragement that it will cause in legal and police operators, with the risk of falling into inactivity”.
Is it perhaps precisely this discouragement that those groups that do not know how to live without harming animals seek to achieve? Well, let both the political class and the abusers know that they are not going to stop us. Society is very clear about it, cruelty against animals is intolerable and must be prevented, investigated, prosecuted and condemned.