The problem is that we only worry about animals we find cute. I defend them all.

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In Switzerland, maltreated animals can be defended by a lawyer but so far, such an institution only exists in the Canton of Zurich. The post is held by Antoine F. Goetschel who is, at present, the only lawyer for animals in the world. Here, he talks to GoodPlanet Info about his role and explains why animals should have legal protection.

Antoine F. Goetschel, how did you become a lawyer for animals?

I started to take an interest in animal rights when I was 23, following an accident which prevented me from speaking for 3 days. That is when I became aware of the distress animals are subjected to by not being able to express themselves. I then wrote my PhD on the fundamental rights and protection of animals before setting up the Foundation for the Animal in the Law. And since 2007, I have been the lawyer for animals in the Canton of Zurich.

What rights do animals have in Switzerland ?

They are not really rights, as such. The new law on the protection of animals, which took effect in 2008, aims to protect the dignity and well-being of animals. It therefore sets out, species by species, numerous measures that aim at either forbidding certain practices being carried out on animals or guaranteeing them a comfortable life. For example, one is not allowed to cut dogs’ ears or tails, to fish if one is only going to throw the fish back in the water afterwards or to use live fish as bait. Similarly, owners of domestic animals such as hamsters, goldfish or birds must own at least two of them to stop them being lonely.

Last March, 70% of the Swiss population rejected the Swiss Animal Protection (SAP)’s proposal to extend legal representation for animals to all the Cantons in the country. How would you explain this result?

According to analyses, the large majority of Swiss people consider the new 2008 law to be adequate in protecting animals. And in my personal opinion, many animal owners are worried that instituting legal representation for animals throughout the country will backfire.

Do you not think that your job may have been seen as a luxury?

That is indeed possible, especially with the current economic crisis. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the law must be correctly enforced. In this respect, the example of the canton of Zurich is especially telling. Today, in many cantons, once an association or the cantonal veterinary has lodged a complaint, there is no-one to defend the animal in front of the judge. As a result, in some cantons, almost no-one is sentenced for maltreating an animal. The lawyer for animals makes up for this shortcoming and also sometimes helps judges who do not always know a lot about the Animal Protection Act, to use it better. It is therefore not a coincidence that I handled 224 cases in 2008 (this represents about a third of all the cases in the country) and that the Canton of Zurich is the one in which the Law is enforced most effectively.

So, what is your role as a lawyer for animals?

I represent maltreated animals in all the penal procedures relating to violations of the Animal Protection Act. However, I do not conduct the appeal. When an animal is maltreated, it is often the Cantonal Veterinary Office that lodges the complaint, but sometimes the complaint can also be lodged by an association or even an individual. I then intervene and give the animal a voice so that the Animal Protection Act is correctly enforced. A few weeks ago, I dealt with a case in which the cats’ owner had gone on holiday and locked the three cats up in a tiny kitchen. Two of them died and the third started to eat them. More recently, we prosecuted a fisherman for causing excessive suffering to a pike with which he had to battle for ten minutes before catching it. Some people thought that we had gone a bit far, but if it had been a dog or a cow instead of a pike, the reactions would have been very different. The problem is that we only worry about animals we find cute. I defend them all.

You are therefore not just the only lawyer for animals in Switzerland but also the only one in the world. Do you think Zurich’s model can be exported to other countries?

Of course ! Either by truly creating a position like mine or by making it possible for the Veterinary Office or a specially accredited association to submit cases to the courts and defend animals’ rights. But above all, animals have to be given improved legal status and this will firstly require that society as a whole becomes aware of the situation.

To find out more :

– « The Attorney for Animals », Antoine F. Goetschel’s latest book, should be published in 2011 to inform and make the public aware of the law and animals’ rights.

– Antoine F. Goetschel’s website : www.afgoetschel.com/en/

– The Foundation for the Animal in the Law’s website : www.tierimrecht.org/en/artikel/

The problem is that we only worry about animals we find cute. I defend them all.

by Antoine F. Goetschel

courtesy of the writer

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