Animal Lawyers, Swiss Vote No

by Mary Haight on March 12, 2010

National animal advocates will not be unleashed on offenders any time soon in Switzerland.antoine-f-goetschel-08 Instead of having Antoine Goetschel, the lone animal lawyer paid by Canton Zurich to represent animals in abuse cases, animal acivists thought all 26 Cantons should offer this public service.  Theoretically  more lawyers would help get more abuse cases prosecuted. But the voters, knowing they lead the pack on animal rights, had heard an earful on a recent abuse case brought to the bench regarding a fish.

It seems a fisherman took too long to reel in the 22lb Pike in question.  Ten minutes of struggling on the other end of a fishhook was thought to be case-worthy and was prosecuted.  The angler didn’t know he would have to answer to the court for his fishing skills, and ate the evidence with friends. Probably with wine. Turned out to be a laughing stock throughout the country, and some think we can blame the case of the battered fish for the outcome at the polls.

If you’d care to take a look, the Swiss Animal Protection Ordinance of 1981 (translated) is quite a document, covering animal husbandry, transport and slaughter, companion animals, breeding, research with a focus on avoiding pain and injury as an overarching principle.

In that principle’s spirit, the transfer of ownership can be made only to people who provide proof they have gone through four hours of class before being granted special authorization to keep animals, according to the law.  Another fours hours of training is required after ownership is transferred. 

Like a license to drive, you get permission to keep an animal(s) when you prove you understand what is required to do so humanely and legally. The Animal Protection Ordinance was updated two years ago and is even more stringent now, with very specific size cage requirements for animals deemed appropriate to  keep caged, as just one example.

Leo Hickman of the UK’s Guardian provides a quote from Attorney Goetschel that wraps things up nicely:

“”The 2008 law was good for animal protection,” says Goetschel, who can even represent the best interests of a pet in any custody battles resulting from a (human) divorce. “I think the fight about the level of protection is now probably over in Switzerland. We have the ‘dignity of the animal’ recognised in Swiss law. But there is a struggle between the idealism of the ethics and the realism of the application of the law. Ethics should be there like a lighthouse to show where to go.”

What do you think, does this sound like the difference between theory and practice to you? The fish story may be amusing on one level, but the ethics can’t be ridiculed. As Goetschel himself said, how would we react if it were a puppy on the other end of the fishing rod? Do we only save what’s cute? Do we stick with what might be the outdated idea that only vertebrates can feel pain? Which way are you leaning?

Related article: Christian Science Monitor

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