Portugal’s pet protection law is under threat. Here’s what’s being done about it

People demonstrate for animal rights in Lisbon, Portugal, 21 January 2023.
People demonstrate for animal rights in Lisbon, Portugal, 21 January 2023.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Catarina Demony
By Euronews Green  with Reuters

Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Lisbon on Saturday to defend a law against pet abuse.

Introduced in 2014, the law criminalises the abuse and abandonment of pets. Punishment ranges from a fine to up to a year in prison.

On Wednesday, Portugal’s public prosecutors called for the law to be deemed unconstitutional, sparking protests led by animal rights group Intervenção e Resgate Animal (Animal Intervention and Rescue).

Why is Portugal's animal abuse law being called unconstitutional?

Portugal’s pet protection legislation has faced numerous challenges from the Constitutional Court over the years. This is because punishment by imprisonment is only permissible when values protected by the country’s constitution are threatened. These values include the right to life, personal integrity, freedom, security, private property and freedom of expression.

Public prosecutors argue that it is unclear which value is violated when a pet is mistreated, according to national newspaper Público. They point to successful appeals made by convicted pet owners to back up their claims.

On one occasion, a dog owner who threw his puppies into a rubbish bin was initially convicted but later acquitted as his jail sentence was deemed excessive.

The court argues the country's constitution cannot protect pets as if they were humans, Expresso newspaper explained.

Who attended the protest?

Standing on top of a truck covered with images of neglected cats, dogs and horses, Animal Intervention and Rescue president Tomas Pires told a sea of protesters on Saturday that it was in everyone's hands to protect animals.

Holding a banner, Filipe Vicente, a 45-year-old dog and cat owner, described the current situation as a "notorious setback."

"I think this is one of the main signs of a civilisation that claims to be developed but that in reality isn't," Vicente said.

Dog owner Sandra Almeida travelled nearly 250 km from the northern Portuguese city of Aveiro for the demonstration.

"The justice [system] cannot turn a blind eye to the evolution of times," Almeida, 52, said as people whistled and shouted slogans. "Many animals are today part of our families and nothing justifies horrible crimes."

Is Portugal’s pet protection law likely to be repealed?

After being criticised by Animal Intervention and Rescue for not speaking up about the issue, Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa released a statement that “the prohibition and punishment of mistreatment of animals… is a widely shared value and an indisputable requirement”.

Rather than erasing the law, the constitutional revision process will be used to “densify and reinforce the rules and sanctions applicable in the field of animal welfare”, the statement reads.