Spain Passes New Law Recognizing Animals As Sentient Beings And Not “Objects”


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Digital Content Producer

animal sentience

The new animal sentience bill means animals won't be handled like objects in civil disputes. Image credit: Prostock Studio /

The Congress of Deputies in Spain passed a new bill on animal sentience last Thursday, ruling that animals in the country should be afforded the protections of “sentient beings” by law. With it will come new sanctions on the seizure, mistreatment, and abandonment of domestic and wild animals, including the way in which custody of pets is decided post-divorce.

While the Spanish Criminal Code already had legislation relating to animal sentience, this new ruling adds an animal rights string to the Spanish Civil Code’s bow. It will add legal guidance to civil spats regarding property, family, and divorce so that decisions are ruled in the best interests of the animals, as well as their humans. Before now, “animals were not considered different from a television” in such legal battles, said Guillermo Díaz of the Citizens Spanish political party, reports El Pais.


“It’s a step forward and it says that in separations and divorces, the arrangement that will be applied to the animals will take into account not only the interests of the humans, but also of the animal,” said animal rights advocate María González Lacabex from INTERcids.

The positive move for animal rights was met with widespread support, only being contested by Ángel López Maraver of the far-right political party Vox, former president of the Spanish Hunting Federation, who branded it “insanity, nonsense, stupidity. It humanizes animals and dehumanizes man.”

How is animal sentience recognized elsewhere?

Animal sentience has been a hot topic in the UK this year. In May, 50 animal charities inspired the UK Government to formally recognize animals as sentient beings in domestic law.

Since its introduction, octopuses, squid, and lobsters have also joined the sentience crew, animals that had previously struggled to fall under this category owing to their lack of backbones and bizarre neural blueprints. The review will change commercial practices such as live boiling without stunning, extreme slaughter methods, transporting the animals in icy water, and the sale of live decapod crustaceans to untrained handlers.

What is Sentience?

“Animal sentience refers to the ability of animals to feel and experience emotions such as joy, pleasure, pain and fear,” reads a 2013 review titled Searching for Animal Sentience: A Systematic Review of the Scientific Literature.

“It is animals’ capacity to feel both positive and negative states that drives the animal welfare movement and is the reason why animal protection laws exist.”

As humans, we have historically found it easier to apply the concept of sentience to closely related species such as primates. For some of Earth’s less familiar subjects, we’ve been more reserved. Lawmakers in the US are currently fighting the good fight on behalf of cephalopods including octopuses, who currently aren’t even classified as animals when it comes to federal research. This leaves them vulnerable to mistreatment that multiple studies and organizations have found them to be both capable of experiencing and vulnerable to.

[H/T: El Pais]


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