Five Spanish animal rights groups have set up a fund to reward individuals or associations who report cases of animal abuse.
Two associations have already received €2,550 each, and a third reward is still awaiting a recipient.
“We still have a third check for €2,550. When we give it away, we’ll see whether we organize another fundraiser,” says Carlos López, of Libera!. The group has partnered with Altarriba Foundation, Justicia Animal (Animal Justice), GEHVA and the Zoology Society of Extremadura to set up a reward fund called Fondo 337 – named after article 337 of the penal code, which deals with animal abuse.
This first campaign has turned up two egregious cases of mistreatment. An illegal breeding farm in Bullas (Murcia) has been shut down after authorities found hundreds of animals living in cramped conditions, including sheep and birds. The individuals who reported the case said there were also graves containing dozens of horses.
It does not help that there is no single police agency in charge of animal abuse in Spain
Two men, a father and his son, are being investigated for animal abuse, and around 100 animals have been transferred to other locations. According to Raquel López, the lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, the suspects “have been forbidden to breed and keep animals, which is something that had never happened in Spain before.”
López, who works for the specialized law firm DeAnimals, said this was not an isolated case.
“There are lots of breeding farms and kennels where animals are abused because they’ve become private businesses that sadly do not take animal welfare into account,” she says.
And current legislation only allows for “ridiculous sentences for animal abuse” that range between three months and one year of jail time for killing or injuring animals. This means that unless the guilty party already has a criminal record, he or she will not go to jail, as two years is usually the minimum for a prison conviction to be enforced.
The complaint against the Murcia breeding farm was filed by an animal rights group called La Casita de López, and the reward money will help pay for the lawsuit.
The second check went to Actin, an international animal rights association that reported a private kennel called Esprineco S.L.. Several towns in Murcia had hired the firm to pick up abandoned dogs and cats, which are kept in cruel conditions according to the complaint. The animals had “insufficient food,” lived in “extreme filth,” suffered from parasites, and lacked “veterinary assistance despite serious injuries or diseases,” it said.
While an investigation has been launched into the case, nobody has yet been called in to testify, according to legal sources. María Martínez, the environment councilor for Mazarrón, a town that uses Esprineco’s services, said a court ruling would be reason enough to rescind the contract. She added that the city had informed the Civil Guard about complaints from the public regarding the kennel, but that “according to Seprona [the Civil Guard’s nature protection service] everything was lawful.”
But the members of Fondo 337 do not share this view, and warn that “local authorities cannot dodge their own responsibility in cases of animal abuse […] much less when the companies are being expressly hired to perform a municipal service,” according to Altarriba.
Sergeant Álvaro Muñoz, of Seprona Barcelona, explains that people are increasingly reporting cases of animal abuse, but that many end up going nowhere.
Current legislation only allows for “ridiculous sentences for animal abuse”
“We have to abide by the law. If a dog is tied up and all by itself, yet it has water and a doghouse, there is nothing we can do even though more sensitive people may feel the animal is in bad conditions,” he says, adding that in some cases “the law is neither explicit nor specific,” which makes their work harder.
It also does not help that there is no single police agency in charge of animal abuse. Cases might fall to the National Police, to the Civil Guard’s Seprona, to regional police agencies, to Rural Agents, and even to municipal police officers. Animal activists feel that there should be one specialized body in charge, mirroring the situation in countries such as Colombia.
These activists, however, confirm the rise in reports by concerned citizens. “Every day we get four or five calls,” says Carlos López of Libera!, adding that all cases are referred to the authorities but that most end up nowhere.
López also notes that they are being forced to act as private plaintiffs “because government agencies are not doing their job.”