Animals should stop being considered things, says Justice Minister

Justice minister Francisca van Dunem is backing pressure to upgrade animals’ status in Portugal’s Civil Code so that they are no longer considered to be “things”.

The new status should give them what has been called “an intermediate definition” ‘between a thing and a human being’, she told a conference organised by PAN – the country’s People Animal Nature party which has one MP in parliament. But PAN has many more ideas up its sleeve.

MP André Silva told the conference it will be presenting three new draft laws to complement the one passed 18 months ago that outlaws the abuse of pets.

Upgrading animals’ status is one of them. Another involves changes to the Penal Code with regard to animal abuse, and the third centres on allowing pets into ‘commercial establishments’.

Whether any of these ‘get through’ the ensuing parliamentary debates remains to be seen, but Van Dunem has agreed she “will pronounce if called to do so”.

“It is commonly accepted that many animals are gifted with a conscious mental life,” she told the conference. “They feel pleasure and pain. They have diverse kinds of sensorial experiences. They are capable of feeling fear, anger and happiness. They act according to memory, desires and intentions.”

Van Dunem ended her less-than-habitual discourse quoting 18th century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham: “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”

Algarve seminar paves way towards regional animal welfare support network

With the nation’s press highlighting Van Dunem’s intervention, MPs, council leaders, police forces, veterinary authorities and animal welfare associations met at a seminar in Portimão organised by Safe Communities Algarve (SCA).

The British ambassador Kirsty Hayes was also present, and the four-and-a-half hour event, attended by around 90 people, discussed all kinds of inter-related animal matters: the work of the GNR and PSP in animal rescues; the enforcement of laws and the various processes involved; responsibilities of Faro’s veterinary authority; animal welfare in Monchique; the workings of municipal kennels – which PAN is hoping to prevent from gratuitous animal culls – and the complicated issue of dealing with neglected or abandoned horses.

But perhaps the most positive development to emerge from the day was the idea to form a regional animal welfare support network, bringing the 100 or so groups working with animals in the Algarve “more together”.

David Thomas, president of SCA, said: “The forming of a support network will help give a more uniformed voice to this subject, which is essential in helping in the efficient formulation of future law changes.”

His proposal, formulated with Monchique’s municipal vet, Ana Silva, was universally welcomed and “action is now being taken to bring key players together”.

Animal abuse legislation prompts 3,816 complaints in 2015

Meantime, figures have been revealed on how the law outlawing pet abuse has changed the landscape regarding animal rights. In 2015, police forces received 3,816 complaints, of which 655 were considered crimes.

Ricardo Alves of the GNR’s SEPNA service (protecting nature and the environment) said 460 incidents related to outright abuse, while 195 were cases of abandonment.

Of the 655 crimes, only 381 perpetrators were identified, he said – adding that in the main, those committing offences were men.

Giving data from the PSP, Luís Filipe Simões said his service had received 728 complaints in 2015, with another 196 coming in the first three months of 2016.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]