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Abandoned pets find haven

(Page 2 of 2)

The Law for Animal Protection comes with some real costs, however. "Right now, this shelter is receiving dogs not only from Barcelona but from all the surrounding areas," laments Yolanda Valbuena, director of the shelter. "People no longer take their dogs to Hospitalet or Badalona, because they know that they'll be euthanized there. Everyone brings their dogs to Barcelona. We're accepting six, seven, 10 times as many dogs as we're capable of handling."

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The shelter's kennels are in fact overcrowded, with two and three dogs sharing cages built for one. Without adequate quarantine facilities, the shelter has been troubled by the spread of infectious diseases. Explains Manena Fayos, the shelter's veterinary assistant, "We don't have the infrastructure to deal with this problem properly."

The Altarriba Foundation has tried to address these concerns by creating additional refuges for animals that no one will adopt. Run by Altarriba president Gloria Casas, the Family Refuge near the town of Sant Feliu de Guixols, for example, is home to 31 dogs and 30 cats who will spend the rest of their days roaming the estate's olive orchards, swimming in its pond, and sleeping in the rooms of its spacious country house.

"All of the animals came here hurt or sick, even mutilated," she says.

"This is a place where we won't put them up for adoption," adds Foundation director Luis Luque, "because we think that it won't get any better for them than it is here." Mr. Luque and Ms. Casas are also putting the finishing touches to the Merlin Center, a stately, castle-shaped dwelling nearby that will be home to unwanted elderly dogs.

To foreigners, such idealistic efforts might seem paradoxical. Spain is, after all, known for its bullfights, a tradition that to many seems cruel. But Catalonia has long sought to distinguish itself as a progressive society in relation to the rest of Spain.

"As a coastal port, Catalonia has always looked toward the rest of Europe, so certain sensibilities and ideas enter here first," says Mr. Batista. One recent event proves his point: In April, Barcelona's city council voted to oppose bullfighting. Although its statement is not legally binding, the council intends to submit its position for formal consideration by the Catalan parliament. The Law for Animal Protection combats this particular tradition in its own way, forbidding anyone younger than 14 from attending a corrida - a move not unlike attaching an "R" rating to bullfights - to curb the appeal for young Spaniards of the nation's most iconic of entertainments.

In the end, Catalonia's innovative law might help more than just the region's unwanted pets. Though its own preamble declares that its purpose is to raise citizens' awareness of their obligations to animals, the legislation raises questions about the very nature of society, asking what it means to be a Spaniard - indeed, what it means to be a citizen. For those who have embraced the cause, the law may actually do more good for Catalonia's people than it will for its animals. Says Luque, "To fight in favor of animals is to fight for the human species."