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Sam, an old dog


A few days ago, I received an email in which a good friend of mine, a Professor of Philosophy, who spends a lot of the little free time she has volunteering at the animal shelter in Barcelona [1], sent a heart-rendering article.

It was about Sam, a beautiful 12 year old Samoyed that had just been found tied to the entrance of the animal shelter. The photos showed a beautiful dog, well looked after, with a collar and lead in perfect condition, but what particularly stood out in the photo was the look in Sam's eyes. A look between bewilderment and surprise; a sweet, serene and sad look. Sam was apparently left tied to the door of the animal shelter by his owners, at a time, during the night or early morning, when nobody could see them or get the registration number of the car. A cowardly and cruel act.

If we wonder how someone could behave in such a way, or why Sam was abandoned, there is only one explanation and that is that Sam, aged 12, with arthritis in his hips, has little time left and the few years he has left will possibly generate costs related to his age: tablets to combat the pain in his bones, special food so that he does not put on weight, more frequent visits to the vet, etc. Or perhaps his owners have gone through changes in their lives or economic situation, which have led them to take the most painful 'solution' for Sam. It is a possible explanation, but under no circumstances, justification.

I can imagine Sam's life before he was tied to an unknown place; living with a family, sharing everything around him with grateful and bright eyes; perhaps since he was a white pup, a ball of soft fur, he didn't know anything else; perhaps like many of our dogs, he had his bed, a place on the sofa, a favourite toy, a walking routine and even some trips and certainly, a lot of fuss. For this reason, I can interpret from the look in Sam's eyes (which I cannot get out of my mind), the initial confusion and later sadness. The empty hours until they untied him and took him into the animal shelter to examine him. Everything different. Everything unknown. I'm sure that the staff and volunteers at the animal shelter went out their way for him, but he was not at home.

When are my parents coming back? He would wonder, as we are "everything" to dogs, they follow us everywhere, they look at us with admiration, attentive to the smallest gesture, we are their joy and their protection. I could imagine how Sam suffered because I have a dog that is now fifteen and a half (heavens above!) and every day, although he is as charming as ever, he is a little less independent.

What do we owe a dog who has shared over a decade with us? I do not know if "owe" is the appropriate word but what I want to say is very clear. A lifetime of absolute devotion, of solid loyalty, of constant joy, of knowing how to behave and of knowing how to love, cannot end in abandonment. An old dog is such a fragile dog and as dependent as a pup full of charm. If it is easy to love a pup, well it is, should be, easier to love an old dog. It needs us and must be offer unconditional love and an easy and dignified life.

Abandonment is not punishable in Spain. Abandonment that endangers the life or safety of the animal is punishable [2]. It is a legal difference through which a lot of atrocious behaviour is justified but, as a judge said in an exemplary ruling, abandoning a dog is the same –relatively speaking- as abandoning a child who cannot fend for themselves [3]. These are not the words of the penal precept but the interpretation that should be made and consequently, that abandonment, pure and simple, should be punishable. That is what happens in countries like Germany, Austria and more recently, Romania.

Therefore, should abandoning an old dog, which does endanger the life or safety of the dog, be severely punished by law or not? In my opinion, the answer is yes. A complaint for abandoning an old dog that has generated a sanction corresponding to behaviour that is legally unjustifiable has not yet reached the courts. I am sure that part of the progress in the law on animals lies in covering the risk of simple abandonment of a dog, as the moral and legal obligation of every pet owner is to look after it and help it so as to protect its life and safety at all times.

That, put briefly and synthetically, is what is known as "responsible ownership" throughout the years (which will hopefully be many) of the animal's life.

Teresa Giménez-Candela
Professor of Roman Law
Animal Law Professor
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

[1] External link
[2] Art. 631.2 Penal Code punishes «those who abandon a domestic animal in conditions that could endanger their life or safety». This offence demands the concurrence of two elements, firstly abandonment and secondly, endangerment to life or safety due to the conditions under which the animal is abandoned.
[3] SAP,Segovia, 5.3.2007 (ruling ): 'Therefore, grammatically abandonment could be understood from both an active and omissive point of view, the behaviour causing distress to the animal being sufficient in this case. Secondly, and regarding the legal definition, although in the scope of offences and given its recent classification, it is not a jurisprudential definition, there are and were previous typical figures of abandonment, such child or family abandonment. The differences between people and animals apart, already considered as regards their different seriousness and punishment, the action of abandonment would be the same. As regards children, the doctrine has been reiterative in considering that the typical behaviour «consists of behaviour, active or omissive, that leads to a situation of distress to the child for failing to fulfil the protection obligations set out in the applicable law» (STS 4 October 2001 [RJ 2001, 8527]). This ruling also describes the concept of distress as a penal type of regulatory concept, considering that it refers to cases in which the child is deprived of the necessary moral or material support that affects his survival and development.
Transferring these concepts to the area of the offence we are now judging, we must understand that abandonment can occur both when the animal is abandoned or when it is put in a situation that causes it distress, both through direct action of expelling it and through the omissive action of not collecting it when you know where it is; as the moral and legal obligation of every pet owner is to take care of it and give it the necessary assistance to protect its life and safety’.

keys law, legal , case law , animal

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