Jan. 3, 2003, was Lito's day of reprieve. Abandoned by his owners, the spaniel mix with caramel-colored ears was delivered to a sprawling urban animal shelter where the air is acrid and the noise deafening. Anywhere else in the world, Lito's story would end here; after a week awaiting retrieval or adoption (unlikely, given his age), he would have been destroyed.
But Lito lives in Barcelona, and on the day he reached the shelter, the city implemented the Law for Animal Protection, an unmatched ordinance that forbids euthanizing abandoned pets.
For a decade now, Barcelona has been an innovator in design, food, and architecture. In the past 18 months, it has also led the way in animal rights. Since January 2003, the city has kept alive the great majority of dogs and cats retrieved by animal protection agents or abandoned at shelters. And last June, legislators from Barcelona helped pass a comprehensive Law of Animal Protection for the entire region of Catalonia, which prohibits declawing, pigeon shooting, and selling animals to minors.
That law also makes Catalonia the only European government above the municipal level to ban euthanasia as a means of animal control. Although the European Commission has approved measures that prohibit abandoning pets and that seek to assure the well-being of domestic animals, the provisions are broad and implemented unevenly. As Jonathan Owen, spokesman for the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals, notes, one of his organization's biggest challenges is simply getting some countries to employ humane methods of euthanasia.
Although the Law for Animal Protection does not take effect for all of Catalonia until 2007, some of the region's cities have independently passed legislation to protect animals. The coastal town of Mataró, for instance, enacted its own no-kill law after a photographer published images of the city-contracted animal control group inhumanely destroying unwanted dogs. Both to limit the damage to its image and to enact genuine change, public health officials in Mataró sought the help of the Altarriba Foundation, an animal protection group. Altarriba assumed control of the town's shelter and immediately stopped euthanizing animals.