Dogs in Spain are no longer considered furniture, according to a Spanish court, which granted a Spanish couple joint custody of their dog in a new ruling, just as it would if a child was involved.
This is a huge step toward the legal recognition of the fact that dogs in Spain are living beings that should not be treated as property, which is a case under the current law. The ruling ended the case in which a couple, after being together for 20 months, and had shared a border collie for more than a year when their relationship ended, went to court to determine who should take care of the dog after the split.
Spain’s RTVE, obtained the text of the ruling, and published the outcome, in which the judge granted “joint custody of Panda (the dog) to each one of the caretakers and people responsible,”. The ruling stated that “love one might have for their pet does not exclude the possibility that the animal can also receive affection from other people.” The judge determined that “the formal possession of the animal, cannot prevail” over “the affection for the animal shown by another party .”
The court case was initiated by the woman’s petition to keep the dog after the split, and although initially filed in September 2020, a judge’s decision was issued only a couple of weeks ago, with both parties notified just last week. It is a consequence of the recent efforts by Spanish lawmakers to amend the country’s civil code to stipulate that pets should be considered “sentient beings” rather than property. The legislation is still not approved by the country’s legislature, but, in a rare show of solidarity, it is supported by all the political parties in Spain.
Since the law has not gone through the Parliament the lawyer that represented the husband, Lola Garcia, had to use the 1987 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals as an argument to advocate for her client’s rights to the dog. Luckily enough 2017, Spain has ratified this Convention, but only in 2017, fully 30 years later.
Following the articles of this Convention, both members of a couple, although not married, were presented as “co-responsible” and “co-caretakers” of the animal, rather than “co-owners,” which avoided treating the pet as a “thing” or “shared good,”.
What was a novelty, by the lawyers words, was the fact that she was, “able to use the convention in order to avoid having to define the pet as a shared thing or property and instead to focus on animal welfare, emotional bonding, and the shared responsibility for taking care of an animal.”
Garcia used veterinary bills, the adoption contract — which was signed under both names — and photographs of the couple with the dog as evidence in his case. According to her, “there was an emotional bond that the justice system needed to recognise.”
It is not the first time that a couple in Spain has been granted joint custody of a pet in this manner. In 2019, a judge in Valladolid granted a couple joint custody of their dog, a West Highland terrier named Cachas, after a lengthy court proceeding. Six months out of the year, each person could spend time with the animal.
Garcia also had to use some property articles from Spain’s civil code at the time to argue that the pet was shared between the two of them. However, because a dog “cannot be divided in half,” the judge granted the couple joint custody.
The outcome is that Panda will be cared for by each partner for a month at a time following the Madrid ruling. Veterinarian expenses will be shared equally between the partners, just as in the case of shared custody of a child.
Garcia predicted that such decisions will become more common as the concept of what constitutes a family unit evolves and as more couples choose not to marry.