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STOLEN INNOCENCE: How vegan animal rights activists are saving Spain’s farm animals

The judge wrote to us stating ‘They’re not going to give you the cow’. They already had a date to kill her. So I went one night, under cover of darkness, and stole Margarita.

ERICA BUIST: Spain may be famous for its love of meat – but sanctuaries across the country are coming to the rescue of its doomed cows, bulls, pigs, sheep and geese… Fundación Santuario Gaia and El Hogar are two of about 20 animal sanctuaries in Spain where vegan activists dedicate themselves to rescuing animals, creating a place where they can live without being put to work or slaughtered.

The employees and volunteers spend a huge amount of time in each other’s company. Some might call it intense: they live and work together, cook and eat together, and there are leisure activities such as movie nights and debates. The sanctuaries are connected via WhatsApp, where they share veterinary information and coordinate animal rescues…

Veganism and such care for animals may seem surprising in Spain. Matador directly translates as “killer”. Surely animal-rescuing vegans are an oddity in the land of bullfighting and pata negra?… While the carnivorous tradition is there, especially in the south, “it isn’t that popular among young people,” Palacios says. But veganism is increasing in popularity in many countries – even the ham capital of the world.

Between 2017 and 2019, Spanish study the Green Revolution found a trend towards plant-based eating. In 2017, 0.2% of Spaniards identified as vegan; by 2019, it was 0.5%. Vegetarians account for 1.5% of Spain’s population. Animal welfare was the second most common reason cited for going vegetarian or vegan (23.8%) after health (67%)…

We’re used to seeing dogs and cats saved from abuse or neglect, but at Gaia and El Hogar – around two hours’ drive apart on either side of Barcelona – most of the animals are pigs, cows, goats and chickens. Gaia co-founder Coque Fernández Abella, 43, an animal rights activist and vet, says: “We wanted it to be for so-called farm animals because they are the most forgotten. No one takes care of them because they’re seen as products.

“Growing up,” he adds, “it was typical to kill pigs to eat at home. Since I was small I had to help with it – it was horrible, because of the screams, but you had to do it. I remember when we rescued our first pig, the memories of the killings came back to me. After everything bad I’ve done in the past, it’s right that I should help animals now”…

The sanctuaries are havens for animals that, rather than being killed for meat or shackled for dairy production, live happily and freely. They are fed and exercised, given medicine if they’re sick, rehabilitated if they’re injured and – the main privilege denied to most farm animals – allowed to live long lives…

It’s easy to imagine vegan animal sanctuaries as soft, emotional places, but there is a steely side. Animals aren’t just rescued from the sides of roads: sometimes they’re swiped from state execution. In 2017, the El Hogar sanctuary made headlines after rescuing a bullfighting cow called Margarita.

Margarita had an irresponsible owner. “When he got drunk with his friends, they would chase her on horseback,” says El Hogar founder Elena Tova. “She is still afraid of men.” The authorities discovered he hadn’t legally registered Margarita; under Spanish law, unregistered cows must be killed as without a vaccine record, there is a risk their meat could make people ill, or even cause a pandemic.

“They couldn’t be reasoned with,” says Tova, who explained again and again that she wanted to take Margarita to a vegan sanctuary to live out her natural life; they could guarantee she would never be used for meat. “They didn’t want to change the law or make exceptions. So we created a page on change.org calling for Margarita not to be killed. It got 190,000 signatures in less than a month.”

She convinced the owner to let them take Margarita. “But it wasn’t enough: the vets still wanted to kill her. They made excuse after excuse and drowned us in red tape, until a judge who felt for us wrote to me to say, ‘They’re not going to give you the cow’ – they already had a date to kill her. So I went one night, under cover of darkness, and stole Margarita”…

Even though keeping their operations running is a constant financial struggle, both sanctuaries are nursing bigger dreams. Fernández Abella wants to expand Gaia so they can save many more than the 500 animals they’re currently caring for, and hopes their stories will turn more people towards veganism. Tova, at El Hogar, promises to open a small animal hospital onsite “if it kills her”, so terminally ill animals can die in their own home. SOURCE…

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