Neither is there one single municipal câmara within the country that has a dedicated animal welfare department, officer or even a set of rules and regulations governing the protection of animals.
Even vets don’t know the extent of their own powers under EU legislation and, more often than not, both they and the police don’t want to get involved in animal cruelty cases that for them are time consuming and a legal and bureaucratic minefield. However, thanks to the animal rights group ANIMAL Associação, things could soon be changing.
Formed 13 years ago, the group is lobbying parliamentary deputies in the PSD, PS and Verdes (Green Party) parties to pass protective anti-cruelty legislation in Portugal with stiff penalties of one year for maltreatment and three years for extreme cruelty resulting in injuries and or death.
“What we are fighting for is a law with simple procedures and penalties at a national level, one which the municipal câmaras will be obliged to follow regardless of individual points of view from its members,” says Miguel Moutinho, President of the ANIMAL Association.
This would imply local authorities, in tandem with vets and the police, to carry out regular inspections at farms, circuses, kennels and animal shelters.
“We’ve commissioned a nationwide public opinion survey and our results back this up, since most of the people questioned supported a strong code or law for the protection of animal rights in Portugal such as exists in other countries,” says ANIMAL Vice President Rita Silva.
“The problem in Portugal is that there has never been a strong cultural and social tradition of viewing animals as anything but either for work or profit. The phenomena of owning pets in our culture is relatively new too, having really only taken off since the 1974 Revolution and having exploded more recently, since the 1990s,” she added.
For Rita, the problem is that, in Portugal, the public is apathetic and passive, expecting the initiative to be taken from above rather than be fought for from below as in other EU countries.
“Then, even when you can find a vereador (câmara member with an executive portfolio) supportive of animal rights and legislation, his or her colleague might be a hunting aficionado or have friends working on a chinchilla fur farm, so it’s difficult to reach a consensus.
“We’ve come across terrible cases where one farmer ran over several unwanted sheep with a tractor, where dogs have been run over deliberately and when these things are reported to the police, they shockingly sometimes say ‘oh, but it’s only an animal’ or even, ‘I can’t be bothered with this, I don’t want to know’.
“That’s why we need a law with stiff sentences and a nationwide legal framework at municipal and national level supported by that law,” agrees Miguel Moutinho.
It’s also a case of educating the common citizen, get them involved to lobby the parliament themselves, make the change and become part of a new national consciousness or paradigm where it is no longer acceptable to turn a blind eye to cruelty and mistreatment of animals.
Apart from having a series of meetings with parliamentary deputies in the coming months, the ANIMAL Associação is also in the process of setting up the first general animal sanctuary in Portugal in the Greater Lisbon area.
“This for us is a long held dream that at last is becoming a reality,” says Rita Silva who adds that, in general, there is a painful lack of infrastructure to house, either temporarily or full-time, animals that have been the victims of abandonment, negligence, abuse and situations of extreme physical cruelty.
ANIMAL is aiming at having the first across-the-board animal sanctuary up and running within the next eight months to a year on a four hectare site, not just for dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters, but also donkeys, cows, pigs, goats and sheep among other animals.
“The situation for many animals today in Portugal is very serious and truly desperate and that’s why it’s time for a modern and effective animal protection law that is easy to follow, understand and clear to execute and enforce,” concludes Miguel Moutinho.
For more information on how you can follow, help and support go to ANIMAL Association site