History and evolution of the European legislation on welfare and protection of companion animals

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The introduction of dogs and cats as pets in human society goes back to at least 10,000 years and is a common global phenomenon across societies. The relationship of humans with cats and dogs is one of the strongest relationships between species and has had significant effects on human social structure and on animal and human health. Nevertheless, the abuse and neglect of companion animals is a serious problem worldwide. As a result, many countries have adopted legislation aimed at protecting animals and criminalizing their ill treatment. In the last 10 years, we have seen a general tendency toward viewing animals as sentient beings, thus changing the heritage of the Roman legal tradition that classifies animals according to their economic value. In Europe, there are several types of approaches regarding the legal protection of companion animals. This article reviews and summarizes the most relevant historical and legal developments of companion animal welfare and protection legislation in Europe. Different companion animal welfare and protection legislation across Europe is compared and, based on the most advanced examples, a proposal for a policy and single mandatory European legislation on this issue is made. The drafting of this legislation could start with the constitution of a European Committee as a working group composed of lawyers, politicians, professionals working in the field (as veterinary specialists in behavior and welfare), and include some well-identified animal welfare European nongovernmental organizations.

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