Who made Barcelona one of Europe’s most animal-friendly cities?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2013: (Actually published on November 20,  2013.)

BARCELONA––Enjoying a reputation as one of the most animal-friendly cities of Europe,  Barcelona did not disappoint the more than 320 animal welfare workers drawn to the city for the 2013 International Companion Animal Welfare Conference.   Bullfighting ended in Barcelona,  after a five-year phase-out,  at the beginning of 2012.  Selling captive birds was prohibited in June 2010.  And Barcelona,  with 1.6 million inhabitants of the city proper,  and 4.5 million within the metropolitan radius,  has since 2003 been among the biggest jurisdictions in the world to practice no-kill animal control,  claiming one of the biggest feral cat neuter/return programs. At least eight animal protection organizations are headquartered in Barcelona,  four of which operate animal shelters that augment in various ways the work of the municipal animal control agency,  the Centre d’acollida d’animals de Companya de Barcelona (CAAC). Condé Nast Traveler gives rave reviews to five vegetarian restaurants in the Old City tourist district,  the oldest of which,  Teresa Carles,   was founded in 1979.  The vegetarian restaurants appear to be popular with downtown office workers as well as tourists. Asociacion Defense Derechos Animal vice president Manel Cases,  83,  traces the rise of an animal-friendly atmosphere in Barcelona to the 1944 formation of the Lliga per a la Protecció d’Animals i Plantes de Barcelona,  or Animal & Plant Protection League.  This was reputedly the first humane society in Spain,  and is certainly the oldest still operating.  The seven staff of La Lliga,  as it is usually called for short,  currently house about 100 dogs and 150 cats in a large indoor shelter not far from the CAAC,  but lower in the hills to the west of the city,  behind the Univerity of Barcelona.


But La Lliga,  focused on rehoming,  has historically kept a low political profile.  ADDA,  by contrast,  was founded by Barcelona railway worker Benito de Benito in 1975 to make noise for animals,  as one of the first activist organizations in any cause to emerge in Spain after the death of dictator Francisco Franco,  who ruled from 1939 to November 1975.   Winning nonprofit status in 1981,  ADDA pushed through to passage the first animal protection law in the autonomous region of Catalan (and the first in Spain) in 1988,  ADDA won strengthening amendments to the Catalonian law in 2003. ADDA is now seeking further amendments to prohibit hunting with greyhounds.  “Spain is the only country in Europe which still allows hunting with these dogs,”  Cases told ANIMAL PEOPLE in July 2013. The signal triumph of ADDA,  however,  was the abolition of bullfighting,  achieved 70 years after Ernest Hemingway in Death In The Afternoon (1932) described Barcelona as perhaps the only city in the world where bullfights could be watched all year round.  Barcelona in Hemingway’s time,  and until more than 20 years after the death of Franco,  had three of the world’s biggest bull rings.  But they catered mainly to tourists.  Franco promoted bullfighting and suppressed Catalan language and culture to try to unify the Spanish national identity.  As Catalonian identity and a Catalonia independence movement rose post-Franco,  opposition to bullfighting rose with the cause.  ADDA in early 2004 presented a petition signed by 250,000 Barcelona citizens to the city council.  In April 2004 the Barcelona city council adopted a non-binding resolution stating “Barcelona is an anti-bullfighting city.”   Opinion polls showed that 63% of Barcelonians had come to disapprove of bullfighting;   55% favored banning it.  The ban,  passed by the regional government of Catalan,  was approved three years later,  though an exemption remains for participant bullfighting events held in connection with village festivals. Currently ADDA is defending the Catalonian ban on arena bullfighting against the efforts of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and his majority Popular Party to undermine it by protecting bullfighting as a cultural heritage.  But legislation recently passed by the national legislature to defend bullfighting did not attempt to overturn the ban,  which would have further inflamed the already growing feeling in Catalan that the region would be better off without Spain.  Economic data shows why:  while Spain as a whole is mired in debt,  with an unemployment rate approaching 25%,  Barcelona has the fourth highest municipal gross domestic product in the European Union,  and enjoyed annual economic growth of up to 17% per year through 2009. Two days before ICAWC 2013 convened,  traffic in downtown Barcelona was paralyzed for hours by a street demonstration seeking Catalonian independence,  some of which I observed en route to Teresa Carles for lunch with Manel Cases and ADDA staff member Montse Ong. Cases and his wife,  ADDA president Carmen Mendez,  were architects,  building successful careers in the post-Franco construction boom that saw Barcelona more than double in size,  when in 1980 they learned of the existence of ADDA,  and learned that the young organization was at risk of collapse from lack of business management knowhow.  They have been involved ever since as fulltime volunteers,  establishing an international support base that has enabled ADDA to continue high-profile activity with influence throughout Spain,  even as other Spanish nonprofit organizations have economically collapsed. ADDA has not been immune to the effects of the bad economy.  A branch office in Madrid was closed to cut costs,  and other activities have suffered.  But ADDA has had the advantage of owning a small but strategically located three-story office outright,  inherited from a female United Nations official whom no one in the organization had ever met,  or known to be a supporter.  The building affords working space to a staff of six.

Cats & dogs

Focused on animal advocacy,  ADDA has not become involved in sheltering,  because as Cases puts it,  “If you do that,  you can do nothing else.”  But,  perhaps inspired by La Lliga,  Barcelona has attempted for more than 30 years to meet European Union standards for animal care and control.   The municipal shelter,  built in response to a 1972 rabies outbreak,  much resembles U.S. shelters of the same vintage,  except that it has a commanding view of the entire city.   The facilities,  now surrounded by a nature park,  have several times been expanded and renovated,  but the staff cheerfully acknowledge deficiencies including a lack of adequate isolation-and-quarantine areas to facilitate effective disease control. Rabies was officially eliminated from Spain in 1978,  though a pet dog from Toledo who was taken to Morocco with his family was found to have become rabid in June 2013.  The 2003 amendments to the Catalonian animal protection law introduced mandatory pet identification and registration,  and prohibited cities from killing dogs and cats for population control.  The CAAC currently takes in about 1,200 dogs and cats per year,  returns about 400 to their homes after identifying them through microchips,  adopts out 650,   and tries to maintain a population of not more than 150 dogs and 150 cats.   On the day that ICAWC attendees visited the CAAC,  however,  the shelter housed 176 dogs,  about 40% of them pit bulls,  and around 200 cats. About half of the pit bulls may not be adopted out,  having previously attacked someone and been designated too dangerous to rehome. The CAAC avoids becoming inundated with cats through the work of the feral cat advocacy and colony management organization Plataforma Gatera.  Plataforma Gatera president Agnes Dufau told the ICAWC conference that volunteers look after 8,515 cats in 598 managed colonies,  few of which appear to be very visible despite Dufau’s insistance that the volunteers should feed cats by daytime,  “so that we don’t look like terrorists.” In the U.S. this would be a prescription for conflict with birders,  since cats who are fed by day tend to turn from hunting rodents for sustenance,  by night,  to recreationally hunting birds. But despite daytime feeding,  the Barcelona feral cats seem to keep a low profile.  I observed only four feral cats in six days and nights of walking,  jogging,  and driving around Barcelona looking for them:  one near food kiosks at the beach,  two near restaurants uptown,  and one in a neighborhood of residential high-rises.  Birds,  however,  were plentiful,  especially around the El Prat de Llobregat airport,  adjacent to the Espai Natural del Remolar-Filipines reserve in the Llobregat river delta.  Harboring about 350 species,  the reserve is considered one of the best birdwatching sites in Europe. ––Merritt Clifton

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