Thousands of people demonstrated on Saturday in Lisbon in Portugal for animal rights as the Portuguese legal system debates whether cruelty to animals is a crime.
On Wednesday, Portugal’s public prosecutors asked the constitutional court to invalidate an existing law that punishes those who mistreat their pets with a fine or jail time.
According to public prosecutors, the court had already made decisions that indicated that the law was unconstitutional. They mentioned the case of a dog owner who threw his puppies in a bin; he was initially convicted but was later acquitted.
The public prosecutors argued the country’s constitution cannot protect pets as if they were humans, the Portuguese newspaper Expresso reported.
“Committing crimes against animals is not less important (than to humans), and the justice (system) of the country cannot turn a blind eye to the evolution of times, to the evolution of the population and of our thoughts,” Sandra Almeida, who has five rescue dogs, said.
She travelled nearly 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the northern Portuguese city of Aveiro to Lisbon for the big demonstration organized by the Animal Intervention and Rescue (IRA) group who fights for animal rights in Portugal.
“Many animals today are part of our families, and nothing justifies horrible crimes committed (to animals) by unstable people,” Almeida said, adding that people who hurt animals are criminals and should be punished.
“I see the debate on decriminalizing the mistreatment (of pets) as a very notorious setback, which is part of a set of setbacks that our society has unfortunately witnessed,” Filipe Vicente, a 45-year-old dog and cat owner, said.
“I think this is one of the main signs of a civilization that claims to be developed but that in reality isn’t,” he added.
Standing on top of a truck covered with images of neglected dogs, cats, and horses, IRA’s president Tomas Pires told protestors that protecting animals was in everyone’s hands.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa agreed with the protestors and said in a statement on Saturday that a law punishing those who mistreat animals was an “absolute requirement”.