The controversy over the exclusion of hunting dogs from the new animal welfare law

Both pro-hunting groups and animal rights organizations see gaps in the newly effective regulation

A hunter and his dog in Bell-lloc d'Urgell, western Catalonia
A hunter and his dog in Bell-lloc d'Urgell, western Catalonia / Salvador Miret
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

September 30, 2023 09:15 AM

October 27, 2023 05:16 PM

Spain's new animal welfare law came into force on September 29, bringing in new regulations to protect pets and animals. Yet, it's not been without controversy.  

The biggest point of contention has been about the exclusions of the list, specifically the fact that hunting dogs are exempt from all regulations regarding dogs. 

The clash of points of view on hunting dogs with regard to this new law goes all the way up to the government that brought the text forward. 

The law was initiated by the left-wing Podemos, the junior coalition partner in the Spanish government, and the original text treated all dogs equally – including hunting dogs. However, the senior coalition partner, the Socialists, had the text amended to exclude hunting dogs from the legislation. 


Both hunting groups and animal rights organizations see gaps in the law and areas they'd like it to be changed, but for very different reasons.

The Artemisan Foundation, a pro-hunting group that defends the interests of rural life, and AnimaNaturalis, an animal rights organization, both see issues with the new law.

Carlos Sánchez, head of research at the Artemisan Foundation, a pro-hunting group that defends the interests of the rural world in Spain, told Catalan News that the original text, which did not have hunting dogs excluded, would have meant that the practice of hunting would have been "impossible" with the use dogs.

Sánchez celebrated the change but criticized how the law was written, saying he would prefer if "professionals" were to re-write the text in its entirety. He also pointed to what he saw as plenty of gaps within the legislation that could lead to confusion, such as sheep dogs needing GPS collars: "Who is going to pay? Is the farmer going to pay for GPS callers for 10 or 20 mastiffs?"

Brooke Spurling, a coordinator with animal rights organization AnimaNaturalis, was disappointed that hunting dogs were removed from the law. She says that the safety and protection of all animals need to be ensured, "and in a hunting environment, that's something that is extremely difficult, if not impossible."

AnimaNaturalis are using a slogan of 'Same dogs, same rights' to push for stronger protection for hunting dogs, but Carlos Sánchez sees a big difference between pets and hunting dogs. "Even if we are speaking about the same species, there are some dogs that are pets and other dogs that are hunting dogs." 

"Of course they can get injured while they are in the field," Sánchez says. "Imagine dogs in a dog pack that have to hunt a wild boar or red deer. They can easily get injured."

Sánchez is also dismayed at the "disconnect" between urban life and rural life. "80% of our population lives in just 20% of our land. So you have that great gap and we think that that is a big problem," he says. 

Many people who visit the countryside from the cities will not know that there's a lot of management taking place to keep the ecosystem balanced. "There's habitat management, there's game management, providing food and water for all the species." As such, for Sánchez, hunting is something of a necessity. "Sometimes we need to control species like the wild boar, which is causing a lot of trouble. If you live in Barcelona, you will know that. In Catalonia, there's plenty of them."

However, Spurling presents a harsher scenario of the reality of hunting in Spain, and specifically with the use of hunting dogs. Her organization, AnimaNaturalis, recently published an investigation they undertook to reveal the "barbaric conditions" that many hunting packs are kept in, as she says. 

"These animals are facing huge risks when they're fighting or trying to catch much bigger animals than themselves, get injured in the course of this activity," Spurling explains. AnimaNaturalis have images and documentation showing injured dogs "not attended to, or they're attended to by having staples covering their cuts, they're not provided the medication."

Spurling also says that "it's estimated that around 22,000 dogs are disposed annually" by hunters: "Around the end of the season, the hunting season, you'll start to see dogs in the streets that have just been abandoned by the local hunters because they're no longer economic for them or profitable to keep them alive during that period that they're not needed." The problem persists, Spurling says, because the dogs are then "easily bred," starting a new cycle again.

However, the new law will bring some change for hunters, as they will be required by law to register hunting dogs as such to have them excluded from the registration. 

"Once they're registered, this means that they cannot be then abandoned or sacrificed as they wish," Spurling says. 

AnimaNaturalis also believes that "the sheer existence of a state-level pioneering legislation is a starting point." For them, the new legislation is an "achievement of putting the perspective of animals into the political agendas and placing them there permanently."