A pack of more than six dogs is set loose on a wild boar in its death throes in a video uploaded to an Instagram account dedicated to hunting. The unsettling images show the animal bleeding as it attacked by the canines, and an accompanying text commentary praises the ferocity of the attacking beasts. “Money can’t buy the assurance they give me with their grip,” writes the owner of the account. There are dozens of similar pages on Instagram and Facebook that show explicit content of “maximum cruelty” toward animals in Spain, as reported by animal welfare organization the Franz Weber Foundation.
The Swiss environmentalist foundation has spent more than six months analyzing public profiles on Instagram – those that are open to any user without the need to be granted access – and have accessed others that are restricted to members anonymously, to verify the veracity of accounts that publish this kind of material. The foundation’s spokesman in Spain, Rubén Pérez, says that none of the content has been removed from Instagram, despite the videos showing open wounds, animals attacking with teeth and claws and the suffering of the animals on the other end, and in spite of official complaints being lodged through the channels provided by the platform. “We have seen that on Instagram there is practically no kind of control in place, they give free rein to these instincts and furthermore they are accompanied by commentaries or texts that emphasize the violence. These dogs are practically being turned into killing machines.”
Ana Mula, a lawyer who specializes in environmental law, says that these practices could represent an administrative infringement and a crime of animal cruelty, adding that depending on the region of Spain in which they are committed, offenders can be fined by up to €200,000. “It is a very serious sanction and can be accompanied by preventive measures during the legal process that an include a ban on keeping animals and the confiscation of any animals involved.”
One of the hunting profiles on Instagram shows a calf being bitten by a dog inside a pen for no apparent reason. Another shows a dog with its neck torn apart. The text accompanying the photograph, as is the case on other accounts, praises the ferocity of this particular breed of hunting dog, known as the Spanish bulldog, which is noted for its biting ability when attacking prey. The Franz Weber Foundation, which described the images as “sadistic,” says that Instagram has failed to remove these accounts despite its complaints. According to the foundation, the platform’s response was: “We have determined that it does not violate our community standards.”
Many of these Instagram pages also offer sales of Spanish bulldogs, using the videos uploaded as promotional tools to advertise their aggressiveness. According to the Franz Weber Foundation, the use of social media for these ends could constitute illegal breeding, as various legal requisites are not being met. “They had litters and were distributing them to people after receiving up-front payments. And we can say that they were using Instagram as a way of advertising these litters, using the supposed skill these dogs possess for hunting or attacking livestock,” says Pérez.
As Mula points out, whether or not a crime has been committed depends on the region of Spain where the infraction has taken place, as there are 17 different animal protection laws in place in each of the country’s 17 regions. “Currently there is no homogeneity and there is a different legal treatment [in each region],” the lawyer says, adding that a sanction in Catalonia, where the laws are stricter, is not the same as a sanction in Castilla y León or Castilla-La Mancha. “The case of Castilla-La Mancha particularly stands out because under regional law, animal welfare regulations exclude hunting dogs.”
At the national level, a draft animal protection law is being processed in parliament that is considering banning these practices and limiting the breeding of hunting dogs to professional breeders. However, last Tuesday the leftist Socialist Party (PSOE) party filed an amendment to the draft bill that would exclude game animals from the law, limiting its scope in the case it is passed only to domestic pets. As the amendment states, game animals would in this instance be governed “by specific legislation as laid out by the National Hunting Management Strategy.”
The Franz Weber Foundation rejects this change to the proposed law and says it is in talks with other Spanish parliamentary groups to coordinate an alternative position. As Pérez points out, if the law is passed with the amendment included, people who breed these kinds of hunting dogs in this way and use Instagram to promote their aggressiveness with violent footage and images cannot be prosecuted. Pérez also says the inclusion of the amendment will also work against the protection of these breeds, which can be hurt when being forced to act in this way. “As things stand, there are no sanctions in place against the hunters because it is understood that these situations are normal. What the new law proposed is that if you expose a dog to danger, you are responsible for what could happen to it,” says the lawyer.
For her part, Mula also says that the new law presents an opportunity to ensure that the owners of dogs that are used to herd livestock, guard dogs and those used for hunting are not excluded from the obligations of the law and can be prosecuted or fined for mistreating the animals. “We have to be stricter when it comes to the control of these animals,” she notes.
Pérez also calls for better control systems to be put in place to avoid practices such as those the Franz Weber Foundation is seeking to prevent being uploaded to social media. “We cannot always rely on civil society, which spends hours on social networks, to decide whether this may or may not constitute a crime.”