by Gabby Kuehn | 26th January 2022
New legislation passed in Spain this month accurately acknowledges that dogs have feelings and emotions, and this must be considered when couples split up.
Spanish law now includes animals as sentient beings, rather than objects owned by one or other partner. This new law means a judge can consider who has physical, emotional, and financial responsibility for the family pet and grant custody accordingly.
In the UK, dogs are legally seen as inanimate objects akin to cars, houses, or other personal items. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is currently awaiting report stage in the House of Lords. We hope it will take the same path as Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Portugal.
Ground-breaking Custody Ruling
One pioneering custody hearing in Spain had already taken a dog’s best interest into account prior to the law change, when a couple were granted joint custody of their dog Panda following a breakup.
According to BBC, lawyer Lola Garcia from the Law & Animals law firm brought the case to court under the 1987 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
She said it was a "pioneering ruling" because her client was able to declare herself not as a "co-owner" of Panda but as "co-responsible" and as a "co-carer". Panda's adoption contract, veterinary bills, and photographs where "the three are seen as a family, exactly the same as if it were a family photo with children" were submitted as evidence.
The judge ruled that "the evidence in the proceedings reveals an affective relationship between the plaintiff and the dog that is worthy of legal guardianship".
Pets Are Family
We know only too well what it feels like to be discriminated against for loving a family pet. Four years ago a UK judge ruled that it was ok for a majority, steered by small group, to decide that they did not want people who considered dogs as family members to live in their community.
Those people were me, my husband, and our dog Vinnie. Whilst we never quite understood the judge’s ruling; he was a nice man with a clear love for dogs who declared that he had never encountered a group of people with such a vitriol dislike of dogs, we accepted it. We moved our family out of our home with heavy hearts.
We took some consolation in the knowledge that we had in fact won our legal arguments and moved the law forward in a positive way.
Vinnies Campaign to Ban Blanket 'No Pet Clauses'
Not the type to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, we considered all the positives we could take from our legal torment. We set about creating a campaign to ban blanket no pet clauses in tenancy and leasehold agreements, and to educate people on this important topic.
In passing judgement the court ruled that 'blanket bans' are in fact illegal, of course nobody really talked about this because we lost. Lost on the basis that its ok for neighbours to discriminate against people with pets. We don’t think it’s ok, we don’t think its ok to discriminate against anyone based on who they love!
The positive steps which we hope the government will take with the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill would improve the welfare of all animals in the UK, as well as making it more difficult to discriminate against those of us who consider our pets family.
Read more about Vinnies’s campaign to end blanket no pet clauses in tenancy and leasehold agreements.
Please also consider signing and sharing our petition.
Gabby Kuehn - PAAW House