While Argentina may be the country with the most pets per capita, it does not, however, fare well when it comes to protecting these animals. According to the province’s Veterinary College, there are around six million domesticated animals in the Greater Buenos Aires area alone. Unfortunately, many of them do belong to a loving home. Some are subjected to abuse and torture from their owners, while others are abandoned and left to live on the streets.
Animal cruelty is a problem that seems to have little hope of improving in the near future. Almost no one reports incidents because of fear, laziness, or simply because they do not care. If a report is filed, the partial legislation in place concludes with absurdly small penalties for committing such horrendous crimes; often, there are little to no repercussions at all. Many of the criminal codes do not even consider farm animals, which magnifies the vast suffering across the nation.
If the state is not protecting the victims of animal cruelty, then who is? A lot of the responsibility has been passed onto the small number of animal shelters and volunteer organizations, who are constantly inundated by the influx of abandoned and abused animals, while being understaffed and under-funded.
The Bubble spoke to Proyecto 4 Patas, a non-profit organization in Buenos Aires dedicated to “disseminating, protecting and promoting the rights of animals,” to examine the reality of this problem
The Issue at Hand
The World Animal Protection Index has classified 50 countries in accordance to “their commitments to protect animals and improve animal welfare in policy and legislation.” Each country is assessed by 15 indicators, grouped under five different themes. They have established an alphabetical ranking system with “A” being the best and moving down to “G,” the worst.
Currently Argentina is among the worst countries regarding animal protection in South America, ranking a “D” overall – and with some areas of assessment scoring less than that.
Moreover, Argentina received an “F” ranking in animal care and protection in the national education system. There needs to be an increase in the education and general awareness of animal welfare across the country to reach out to the new generations at an early age and teach them that animal mistreatment and cruelty is wrong. Society also needs to recognize that farm animals alike are not just for our eggs in the morning and steak at night.
The reality is “any foundation, group or person, with the amount of overpopulation of animals in Greater Buenos Aires could be full of animals within an hour or two,” says Carolina Martín, the founder of the NGO. She added: “When one is walking the streets of Greater Buenos Aires, or driving in their car, you can come across 30, 40, 50, 60 dogs.”
Sadly, many strays who used to have homes never leave the neighborhood, as they are still attached to their past owner. Martín explained that “the feeling isn’t mutual”: the owners simply don’t want them anymore.
Additionally, Martín describes that often “we don’t think these areas in Greater Buenos Aires are as poor as they are. There are a lot of houses that don’t even have a fence, so dogs escape from these houses and then stay on the streets.” That being the case, more abandoned animals can be found in these poorer and socially vulnerable areas.
Unfortunately, like many other animal shelters, P4P can only take a small percentage of the abandoned animals because space and resources are limited. At P4P they only focus on the extreme cases – Martín explains that they rescue “animals that are at risk, that is to say risk of dying, animals that are in very bad shape, with tumors, or that have been hit [by cars or trains] that are suffering and have been left for a couple of days… boxes of puppies, but everything has a limit.”
This is a losing battle for organizations like P4P. They are completely overwhelmed and are left feeling like the state is simply ignoring the problem. She’s described the crisis as “a cancer, it’s an enormous problem that cannot be changed by any organization because we not have enough resources. And it’s not our role, it’s the role of the state” to combat the overpopulation of animals living on the street.
But thanks to them, the organization has rescued animals on the brink of death. Potrillo is just one of the many victims. After being struck by a car and losing his tail and a paw, P4P took him in and gave him a new lease on life:
There is no published statistical data that illustrates the grand scale of animal cruelty in Argentina, alarmingly because many cases go unreported. So, it’s an almost impossible task to carry out. According to Martín, “98 percent of animal mistreatment is not reported. I don’t have statistical data, but I have witnessed so many cases where people do not report the abuse.”
This is primarily because people do not want to get involved in the judicial process, or simply do not consider it important. “A lot of the time they’ll send an email to the protectionists or to an NGO, and with that they feel like that’s enough to just pass it onto others to take care of it.” Many people tend to upload a photo to social media of an abandoned or abused animal, which in reality does nothing but clear their conscience.
The evolution of animal law commenced back in 1891, when the Law 2786 (known as Ley Sarmiento) was passed, banning the mistreatment of animals. This was introduced and promoted by the first-ever defender of animal rights in Argentina, Ignacio Albarracín, who pledged 42 years of his life to assist this cause.
His goal was to give rights and respect to animals everywhere, which was the first push toward the safety of animals subjected to harrowing abuse. What’s more, Albarracín went onto ban bullfights, pigeon shooting, and cockfighting.
This was only the first step of Albarracín’s plan. He believed that animals could not solely rely on law, as it could neither educate nor change Argentine culture. Since that generation were strong believers in education, his work contributed to animal-related issues being taught in schools, but also an annual celebration held every April 28th – “Día del Animal” (Animal’s Day).
Since then the development has been relatively slow. The National Law for Animal protection (14349) was approved in 1954. This prohibited the sacrifice of cats and dogs in the Buenos Aires province. Additionally, it included two articles. The first states: “he shall be punished with the imprisonment from 15 days to a year, for inflicting bad treatment or committing acts of animal cruelty.” The second article focuses on what constitutes acts of abuse. Distressingly, out of the six points highlighted by this article, abandonment is not one of them. Martín, among others, has said this law is “outdated” and “needs to be modified.”
Furthermore, many other critics have argued that the fines and punishments are rarely enforced as they are hardly reported by the authorities; if they are, they’re not harsh enough, some might even say they’re laughable. The laws on animal welfare currently leave victims of animal cruelty “invisible” and forgotten. Martín suggested that someone “could boil a dog alive and get away with it.”
One case that demonstrates this is the 2017 death of Chocolate, who was skinned alive by his owner. Eventually, he was sentenced the maximum penalty of one year in prison, but nine times out ten the defendant usually just gets a slap on the wrist.
In general, there are no recommended guidelines for the care of domesticated animals and no regulation on the stray population – apart from in the province of Buenos Aires, with legislation that abandons this idea of culling as an acceptable method and establishes spay and neuter as the only applicable method in the province (Law 1389). However, even then the sterilization of strays has been small in comparison with the overall street population.
Carolina has also added that “if we talk about animal rights, we have to think of all the animals that are not considered.” There are some laws specifying how to rear and transport livestock, such as the 18819 Law, passed in 1970. Accompanying this, there is a legislative framework on farm animal health – enforced by the Animal Health Police.
SENASA have also composed manuals describing good practice in the agricultural sector, which has given farmers some guidelines into the general care and transport of these animals. Additionally, in 2001 the Argentine government produced a of set conditions for animal welfare that must be met before meat products can be entitled “organic.” One of these considerations that need to be complied with is that they are allowed to roam freely for most of their lives.
However, examining Argentine’s infamous meat industry, pampas-raised beef is seemingly a thing of the past. Much of the country’s grassland is now being used for crops, leaving less space for the cows. The temptation for farmers to revert to the quick profit production of soy, wheat, and corn, in addition to the financial crisis that devastated the country in 2001, has led to many farmers selling their cows and turning their pastures into farmland for harvest.
“Basically, cow production got pushed out of the Argentine Pampas,” confirmed by the director of scientific and technological development at Argentina’s National Institute of Technology (INTA).
Subsequently, in the late 1990’s government passed legislation that provided subsidies for the corn-fed cows on feedlots to try and maintain lower prices on less land. The Argentine Beef Promotion Institute has estimated that up to 80 percent of beef production has been through a feedlot.
This alarming figure conveys this idea of “maximum production at the lowest cost”, which has left many cows, and many other farm animals, suffering from chronic pain and high levels of stress due to these cramped conditions.
Taking this into account, change is desperately needed and a complete overhaul of national animal legislation is a necessity.
What Needs to Change?
In the opinion of Martín, “to reduce mistreatment and abandonment, we need harsher punishments, to educate, and to make society aware that animals are sentient beings and not objects.”
Penalties do need to be more severe: a prison sentence of 15 days to a year is just not enough. There have been countless online petitions to increase the current imprisonment time in Argentina to seven years, however, little concrete action has taken place.
However, Magdalena Ordada, the promoter of the law against dog racing in the Upper House, has tried to push for new bills for change in animal protection laws, including the removal of animals from circus acts. Although Albarracín tried to prohibit circus animals 127 years ago, this ban has not spread across the entire country. The new initiative aims to achieve a prohibition at the national level, with imprisonment up to four years for the organizers. Odarda has made it clear that “we cannot tolerate more cruelty and suffering [in the name of] fun.”
As it stands, abandonment is not a crime in Argentina. The situation is at critical mass; the problem isn’t just going to go away. Within the reforms, abandonment would be considered a crime in the eyes of the law.
Odarda has also encouraged a project to amend the 14346 Law, with 13 reforms to be put into consideration to improve the outdated nature of it. Some of these penalties are set to elevate prison sentences to four years. New proposals lobby for the increase in minimum imprisonment from fifteen days to three years for crimes of animal mistreatment, as well as three to ten years behind bars for acts of animal cruelty.
Alta Gracia, a city in the province of Córdoba, has produced incentives to decrease the amount of strays living on their streets. Residents who adopt these animals can get a 50 percent tax relief on their property – that’s on average a saving of AR $250 to $300 per month. Other incentives include a bag of high-quality dog food and free veterinary care. Decisively, results indicated that there were 22 dogs without owners, but with this scheme 13 were adopted.
A scheme like this would perhaps bring promising results to the greater metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, especially in neighborhoods where social vulnerability is highest. However, given the economically unstable climate of late, the likelihood of the government prioritizing plans like this is low.
This doesn’t mean that the government can completely negate the problem, however. Change and enforcement of legislation is their role and not that of the NGOs. “No one is trying to sort it out,” Carolina added.
Disproportionately, the government needs to inject more finances and resources into increasing spay and neuter campaigns in the capital and Greater Buenos Aires to ensure the project is a success. Carolina stated: “There are [spay and neuter campaigns], but these are few in respect to the amount needed so that there are fewer animals on the street.”
For her, and the future of P4P, she hopes that the “small seeds” have been sown so that the future generations can follow a similar road to respect and care for animals – encouraging everyone to get involved and “demand the government to take up their role.” Ultimately, she alludes to this idea of a “conscious change” that is needed within Argentine society.
“They deserve our respect, love and that we take care of them because they cannot take care of themselves”, says Carolina.
How to Report Cases of Animal Abuse
The first step we can take is to open our eyes to reality of animal abuse, rather than remain ignorant and unaware. To be made visible to the juridical system, these cases need to be reported properly. So, what can you do?
If an incident occurs in Buenos Aires City:
- Visit the Unidades de Orientación y Denuncia located around the city open Monday to Friday, 9 AM – 5 PM
- Call 0-800-347225
- Send an email to: [email protected]
- Fill out a form online at: https://www.fiscalias.gob.ar/
If an incident occurs in the Province of Buenos Aires, or elsewhere in the country:
- Go to your local police station or UFI