Spain passed its first animal rights bill on Thursday but left hunting dogs, bulls and other animals used in traditional rural activities out.
The new law will change the treatment of wild animals in captivity and pets, prohibit the sale of animals in shops, enforce prison sentences on animal abusers, and transform zoos into wildlife recovery centers.
To get the animal rights bill passed, the political alliance Unidas Podemos (United We Can), which initially wanted the protection of hunting dogs, backed the law excluding hunting dogs. When the bill passed without protecting hunting dogs, the coalition asked those fighting to protect hunting dogs for forgiveness.
In 2021, around 167,000 dogs were abandoned in Spain, many following the end of the hunting season, according to a study by animal welfare group Affinity Foundation.
“I would especially like to apologise to those who suffer the consequences of these abandonments,” Ione Belarra, the Spanish minister of Social Rights, said. “To the shelters and associations that every day in our country rescue, care for and give a new happy life to all those dogs abandoned by some hunters.”
“We have gone as far as we could with the strength that we have. Further than anyone had ever gone before in defence of animal rights in Spain,” Belarra said, “but certainly not as far as we would have liked nor as far as we thought we would go. But we will continue working to guarantee the rights of all animals.”
She added that the law goes after animal abusers: “Therefore, to leave hunting dogs out of this law is to leave the abusers of hunting dogs unpunished, only and exclusively.”
Spain’s hunting industry is worth an estimated 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) annually and has a powerful lobby that pushed for hunting dogs to be left out of the animal rights bill. Socialists also feared the issue could scare away rural voters toward right-leaning parties in a general election this year.
Dog rescue groups said the law was essential to prevent owners from abandoning their hunting dogs, such as galgos, when they are no longer fit for hunting.