THANKS to bullfighting and other traditional fiestas that involve cruelty to creatures, Spain has not always enjoyed the greatest reputation when it comes to animal welfare. But that is something the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought to remedy earlier this year, when a new animal welfare law was approved by Congress in March. 

The reform to the country’s criminal code, which is due to come into force at the end of September, included a series of stiffer penalties such as increased jail time for offenders, something that can even be applied if you kill a rat in your home. 

Under the new law, rats will enjoy protection from cruelty on the basis that they are vertebrates. Killing one could land you anywhere between six and 18 months in jail – although prison sentences of under two years for first offenders are usually suspended in Spain. 

If, however, killing a rat is considered to be self-defence, is related to an insurmountable fear, or is carried out by professional pest control, the instigator will escape charges. 

Legal experts consulted by Consumer magazine said that in the case of rats, each case would depend on common sense and the circumstances would be taken into account by any judge. 

The other changes that will be introduced by the law when it comes into force include an obligatory training course for anyone wanting to adopt a dog or who already has one in their possession, the requirement to sterilise dogs, cats and ferrets, microchips for domestic cats, and a ban on owning a series of pets including turtles, hedgehogs and spiders. 

People who harm or mistreat their pets could face fines of €500 to €10,000 for minor offences, while these fines could rise to anywhere between €10,001 and €50,000 for more serious infractions. The most serious offences will carry fines from €50,001 to €200,000. 

Repeat offenders will face prison sentences as well as restrictions that would stop them from either owning or working with animals.

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