A judge in Madrid, Spain, granted a couple joint custody of their dog in a rare ruling that marks a step toward the recognition of pets as living beings under the law, to be considered different from property. The couple, who had shared a border collie for more than a year, went to trial to determine who the pet should live with following their breakup.

The judge granted “joint custody of Panda (the dog) to each one of the caretakers and people responsible,” taking into account that the “love one might have toward their pet doesn’t exclude that the animal can also receive affection from other people,” according to Spain’s RTVE, which had access to the ruling. The judge found that “the formal ownership of the animal, either as an owner or adoptee, cannot prevail” over “the affection of the petitioner.”

The lawsuit was filed by one of the two in September 2020, the judge’s resolution was dated Oct. 7 of this year, and both parties were notified last week. Spain’s Congress has taken steps to change the country’s civil code to stipulate that pets should be considered “sentient beings,” rather than property, but it hasn’t been approved yet.

Lola García, a lawyer who specializes in animal rights and represented the plaintiff, told The Post that the case stands out because she used the 1987 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals as an argument to advocate for her client’s rights to the dog. Spain ratified the convention in 2017.

Under the convention, both members of the couple, who were not married, were presented as “co-responsible” and “co-caretakers” of the animal, not “co-owners,” which avoided treating the pet as a “thing” or “shared good.”

“What is novel is to be able to use the convention to avoid having to define the pet as a shared thing or property and instead to focus on the animal’s welfare, the emotional bond and the shared responsibility of taking care of an animal, beyond the pet being considered a property,” she said.


García used as evidence veterinary bills, the adoption contract — which was under both names — and photos of the couple with the dog. “There’s an emotional bond that the justice system needs to recognize,” she said.

The case is not the first time a couple in Spain was granted joint custody of a pet. In 2019, a judge in Valladolid gave a couple joint custody of their dog, a West Highland terrier named Cachas. Each person could spend time with the animal six months a year.

García, who also represented one of the parties in that case, at the time used the properties section in Spain’s civil code to argue that the pet was shared. But because a dog “can’t be split in half,” the judge gave the couple joint custody, García said.

Following the Madrid ruling regarding Panda, each partner will spend a month at a time with the dog and share veterinary bills and other expenses, just as in the case of shared custody of a child, she said.

As the notion of what constitutes a family unit continues to evolve, and more couples choose not to marry, García said she expects such rulings to become more frequent.