Animal lovers fight ‘cruel’ put-down rule for strays

A Madrid association is aiming to change Spanish law under which abandoned pets can be put down just ten days after being picked up from the streets.

Animal lovers fight 'cruel' put-down rule for strays
Estimates have one pet being abondoned in Spain every two minutes: Photo of a dog in an animal shelter : Shutterstock

The animal protection organization El Refugio has launched a petition which, it believes, will trigger a debate in the Madrid legislative assembly to change the law in the region, something that Catalonia has already done.

"Six hundred metric tons of dogs have been put down in the past 10 years in Madrid alone," El Refugio president Nacho Paunero told The Local, adding that the money saved from not paying dog and cat pounds to carry out these operations would better be employed on policies aimed at preventing the abandonment of animals.

"Since 1996 we have been practising a zero-sacrifice policy. It is our essence; it’s why we started," Paunero says of El Refugio, the animal shelter at the heart of the association he presides and which is based in the north of the Madrid region.

Under current national law, abandoned pets can be disposed of after ten days of captivity, with all regions except Catalonia adhering to this timescale with small local variations.

If Paunero’s campaign is successful in collecting 50,000 signatures in support of a “zero sacrifice” rule in Madrid, the regional assembly will be forced to debate it as a Popular Legislative Initiative.

Paunero is confident that the petition will gain sufficient weight before the August 15th deadline for the procedure, and says that his association’s aim is to “first change the law in Madrid, and then in the rest of Spain”.

The Socialist Party, United Left and the UPyD centrist formation are all behind the initiative, but the conservative Popular Party (PP), which governs the Madrid region with a majority, has yet to indicate its position on such a change.

"We believe that the PP would not oppose something like this," says Paunero, who adds that it was "fantastic" that PP Madrid Mayor Ana Botella had signed the petition at the capital’s Book Fair event last month.

The experience of Catalonia, Paunero claims, shows that a zero-sacrifice policy can work to actually reduce the number of stray animals if it is accompanied by other measures. The fact that the region stopped strays being put down led to active steps to discourage the abandonment of pets, such as banning the display of puppies in shop windows and sterilization campaigns. "Investing in sterilization is investing in an absence of abandoned animals," he argues.

On a national level, the UPyD has petitioned Spain’s PP-dominated Congress to improve its animal protection legislation and reduce the rate of abandonment. In parliament earlier this year party leader Rosa Díez cited a figure from the Madrid Federation of Animal Shelters which put the number of abandoned pets at 300,000 a year, the worst in the European Union.

"That means an animal being abandoned in Spain every two minutes. These numbers cannot be justified as a consequence of the economic crisis, given that other badly hit countries do not have such high figures," Díez said before lawmakers.

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