Guatemala Leads the Way With Game-Changing Animal Cruelty Law

Guatemala just took a huge step forward in the battle against animal cruelty. Up to now, little could be done there to anyone who harmed animals. With bold and comprehensive new legislation, that’s all in the past.

The Congress of Guatemala passed first-of-its-kind legislation in February 2017. Now, protection is firmly in place for wildlife, animals used in research and companion animals. The new law also bans animal testing for cosmetics, using animals in circuses, and dog fighting.

Humans who are spectators at any of these events can be criminally charged under the law as well. Finally, the new legislation establishes what the Humane Society International (HSI) calls an “official government platform to address animal welfare.”


A busy Guatemalan street.

This development is more important than it might seem at first blush. With a population of 15 million, Guatemala is the largest and most populated country in Central America. If its government is now willing to take a serious stance for animal protection, it’s a real sea change from what’s been going on in this country to this point.

Animals — even companion animals — aren’t necessarily cared for in Guatemala the way we are used to in the United States. According to Veterinarians Without Borders, for example:

In this indigenous Mayan culture, dog ownership does not mean what it does in Canada or the United States. Pet dogs sleep outdoors, and aren’t fed much more than the occasional tortilla. They roam the village freely and scavenge most of their food. . . Most families can afford to provide eggs but, for some, providing chicken [for a recovering dog] is a struggle—it means less for themselves that week. [We] encourage owners to do the best they can for their dogs without appearing insensitive or culturally inappropriate.

In many ways, in Guatemala animals have been viewed as fungible creatures that can be used for a variety of purposes. They might be beasts of burden, forms of entertainment, sources of income or food, or guardians of homes and businesses. Companion animals are abandoned at a whim when keeping them becomes inconvenient. The idea of being concerned for animals’ individual well being might be a new perspective for many.

Homeless dogs run rampant in the streets of Guatemalan cities. They have no one to love or care for them. Indeed, they are badly treated their entire lives. According to Animal Aware:

The street dog problem is acute, and heartbreaking – and could be relieved by regular, low-cost spay/neuter clinics. It is not easy to ignore the sight of an almost hairless dog, ribs protruding, scavenging for food at the roadside with its last reserves of strength and the light of desperation in its eye, teats so distended after so many litters as almost to touch the ground, knowing that it can scarcely feed itself, let alone the puppies, who will surely die – possibly becoming victims of childish cruelty beforehand.

Street dogs are routinely cleared away by leaving poisoned meat for them to eat. It’s a horrible, painful way to die. Finally, with the passage of this omnibus legislation, such cruelty is now officially illegal and punishable.

“This vote by the Guatemalan Congress not only marks an unequivocal victory for animals, but also ratifies the country´s commitment to animal welfare,” said Cynthia Dent, Latin America’s global field manager for Humane Society International, in an HSI press release.

Homeless cat on the street

“The law cracks down on perpetrators of animal cruelty by establishing fines, and setting up the government to deal with cruelty cases,”  Dent added. “There has been an increase in the number of cruelty cases in Guatemala in recent years, and with this act, we are going to work to reverse this disturbing trend.”

We can thank HSI for helping to introduce this legislation and shepherding it through to final passage. The fact that it covers so much ground is striking — and wonderful. Passing and enforcing such legislation makes Guatemala a Central American leader in animal protection. Will neighboring countries take note and follow suit?

It’s long past time to create better, more comprehensive laws that help our animal friends. They’re not “things” put here for our pleasure or use. They deserve better than they get. Guatemala understands that now — and the rest of Central America needs to make the same decision.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

thanks for this article.

Melania P
Melania Padilla1 years ago

Awesome news indeed

Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Nicole H. Then according to your twisted logic, the minute we see you have a "low quality of life" we should immediately euthanize you. Sorry but euthanasia is simply a euphemism for murder. Any complaints about difficulty or expense of spay and neuter programs is NOT an excuse. Life is always better than death, except the he case of all of those murderers in the "kill shelters" of third world countries like the US and Canada and their bloodthirsty supporters. And no human factory farming for "meat" is NOT acceptable anywhere and the perpetrators of those human culture atrocities should be punished severely. Your logic is rejected.

Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 years ago

Good on Guatemola. Maybe the US could learn a thing or two. Nicole H. PETA person? Death preferable to a chance for a home?

Deborah W
Deborah W2 years ago

This vote marks an unequivocal victory for animal and also ratifies the country´s commitment to animal welfare. NOW ALL THAT'S NEEDED IS ONE HUGE ENFORCEMENT FORCE.

rosario p.
rosario p.2 years ago

Nicole Heindrycks. " Surrounded by dogs al all kinds" well please let me know where have you seen this to take action because I live in Spain in a big city and does not have seen this picture you describe. Animal rights activist and protectionists are fighting hard for animal welfare and against animal cruelty and things are changing, for the first time- some - abusers are going to jail! Euthanasia 0 % in shelters is one of the greatest fight of our protectionist too. You can see it is just the opposite of your point of view because we are sick of so much extermination, because we know and we suffer it. We know also Belgium is such a kind country and are adopting our pets, for that we are very thankful. Guatemala gives us one reason more to stand up for better laws.

heather g
heather g2 years ago

Thanks to HSI. There are so many countries to work with for improving the lives of animals...

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago


Nicole H

Guatemala puts a great example to other Central American and South American countries, as well as many others. Lets have a look in Spain for instance. When you go to a medium sized or big city you are surrounded by dogs al all kinds, all skinny and many with skin / fur problems. Now that the laws are changed, I hope that one also has foreseen to have sufficient number of control in the streets, parks, etc.. so that all these poor guys can be taken from the streets and put in shelters. Awaiting either to be placed in a loving home, and if this is not possible, then to euthanize them, because then they do not suffer any longer. I know that most of you do not agree to euthanize pets who are in healthy condition, but you can not keep them for years and years in shelters, where they have insufficient human attention, no playing or fooling around with each other, no walking, barely sufficient food etc.. You certainly know what I mean. These dogs / cats are not lucky at all, their sad faces speak for themselves. They are lethargic , do not respond to you calling them, lay in a corner, and are just awaiting their last breath. Personally I prefer that those animals are euthanized. They have had a sad and rough life already, and there is no use in prolonging this for a couple more years. Life must have quality and if this is not possible, do not keep them in small cells on concrete floors for the rest of their days to come. Anyway

Winn A
Winn Adams2 years ago

Please don't breed or buy while shelter animals die.