By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - A new law in Spain took effect on Wednesday recognizing pets as "sentient beings" for the first time in the country.
"This reform is needed not only to adjust the Spanish Civil Code to animals' true nature but also to the nature of the relationships they have with humans," reads the preamble to the law.
Pets had previously been considered "objects" under Spanish law.
Consequently, one of the main results of this legal paradigm shift will be on what happens to pets in the case of divorce or separation.
Now, pets will be treated more like children, with judges able to order shared custody of animals between partners.
In the judge's decision on pet custody, the pet's welfare will be taken into consideration.
At the same time, if one partner is found to have mistreated a pet as a way to control the relationship, it could have implications on custody battles over children, as well.
Creditors or other parties will also no longer be able to seize a person's pet without taking into consideration their wellbeing.
Pets can also be included in wills, and if they are not, there is a clear framework for what to do with them after their owner's death.
With the legal change, Spain is following in the footsteps of other European countries like Portugal, France, Switzerland, and Germany, which have also recognized animals as sentient beings in recent decades.
This is the first major legal change enacted by Spain's progressive government on animal welfare, but it may not be the last.
Junior coalition partner Unidas Podemos has drafted a new bill that would ban wild animal performances in circuses, the sale of pets in stores, the unjustified killing of animals and the abandoning of dogs for more than 24 hours.
Changes are also underway in the criminal code to increase punishments for animal abuse in the country famed for bullfights.