Bogotá’s estimated 1.2 million pet cats and dogs and their fellow animals both wild and domestic recently won a much louder voice in defense of their rights and wellbeing.

On Saturday, Mayor Enrique Peñalosa announced the creation of a new Center for the Protection of Animals and Institute for Domestic Animal Wellbeing. The district-wide project will oversee rights protections, handle adoptions, provide health services and monitor wild animal populations, among other responsibilities.

“We are going to take care of mistreated animals, take them in and encourage their adoption,” said Peñalosa in a press conference on Saturday. “We will also have mobile spaying and neutering clinics.”

By offering sterilization services and free veterinary care for low-income pet owners, the new center hopes to reduce the number of homeless and unwanted pets in the city.

“I am sure that many families in Bogotá can make a happier life by adopting a pet,” said the mayor.

Paola Cervera Quintero, who was appointed to lead the Animal Protection Center on Saturday, called the mayor’s plan “a very large challenge” but said she was confident that the efforts of animal lovers and rights organizations had laid a solid foundation.

“This is recognition of the years of fighting and work from animal-focused groups,” said Cervera. “We are going to make this capital a place where animals have dignity.”

Cervera, who is vegan, said she was inspired to work for animal rights after observing horse-drawn carts in Bogotá streets. A 2013 law banning animal-powered transportation in the city suggested to her that change was a real possibility.

“When Bogotá ended animal traction, I thought ‘yes it is possible to do something,’” she said.

Bogotá’s new Animal Protection Center will take in and treat animals that have been victims of mistreatment, including those covered by a new law that provides criminal penalties for animal abuse.

That law, which President Juan Manuel Santos signed into effect in January, classifies animals as “sentient beings” rather than personal property. It also provides strict penalties for animal mistreatment and abandonment, and it allows the police to confiscate animals they suspect are being abused.