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Switzerland referendum on providing lawyers for animals

DogsA nationwide referendum is taking place in Switzerland on a proposal to give animals the constitutional right to be represented in court.

Animal rights groups say appointing state-funded animal lawyers would ensure animal welfare laws are upheld, and help prevent cases of cruelty.

Opponents say Switzerland does not need more legislation regarding animal protection.

The Swiss government has recommended that voters reject the idea.

There is already one animal lawyer in Switzerland.

Zurich has made legal representation for animals in cruelty cases compulsory since 1992.

The current incumbent is Antoine Goetschel. He has gone to court on behalf dogs, cats, cows, sheep, and even a fish.

Animal ‘minority’

He believes speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves is the essence of justice.

“For me the animals are one of the weakest parts in society and they need to be better protected.

“So, it’s kind of a fight for a minority that needs to be supported. And to make legislation more respectful towards humans and animals as a whole.”

But Switzerland has very strict animal welfare laws, and the Swiss government, conscious that the taxpayer would have to pay the fees for a nationwide system of animal lawyers, has recommended voters reject the idea.

And there is opposition from Switzerland’s powerful farming lobby.

Struggling with reduced subsidies and falling milk prices, Swiss farmers say animal lawyers would simply add another layer of bureaucracy to a system already overburdened with animal protection legislation.

By Imogen Foulkes – BBC News

Animal welfare organizations described a recent Halloween-costume contest for dogs as cruel. If this dog had been Swiss, it might have had a lawyer.

AFP – Animal welfare organizations described a recent Halloween-costume contest for dogs as cruel. If this dog had been Swiss, it might have had a lawyer.


Although he runs a legal practice in Zurich focused on property and family law, Antoine Goetschel has been interested in animal-rights law for 20 years. Goetschel helped launch the Foundation for the Animal in Law and start its library of information on the subject. He has written several books on the subject and served on government panels drafting animal-welfare legislation. Since 2007, he has been the “animal advocate” for the canton of Zurich, handling between 150 and 200 related cases a year.

Germany’s SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with Goetschel about about the job, the vote’s chances of success and why eco-friendly Switzerland needs even more animal-protection laws:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How are you feeling about the referendum? Do you think it will succeed?

Antoine Goetschel: There is a Lou Reed lyric that talks about the “power of positive drinking.” But, seriously, I do feel positive. Even some of the opponents of the referendum say they think it will be positive. Other opponents have been mingling fact with fiction and coming up with some disturbing arguments against it. But the mass media have been reporting on this a lot, so I’m confident that the Swiss population will confirm its sympathy toward animals with a “yes.”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will happen if they do?

Goetschel: First, any legislation will have to be debated by the Swiss government. But if that goes ahead, then, if I were the government, I would think about creating some sort of academy or educational forum for animal-welfare attorneys. One needs skills that are not necessarily learned at law school.


Goetschel: It’s not enough to just be an attorney and love animals. You can easily lose your credibility if you over-identify with the animal. In my experience, an animal-rights lawyer needs a warm heart and a cool head. They need experience not only in animal-welfare law, but also in criminal law. They need to know whether this witness is credible or whether that argument will be enough to convince a judge, and so on. They must be skilled at mediation and have the confidence of animal-welfare organizations. They must also know how to speak to farmers and dog breeders. And journalists — because, in this position, you will come under a lot of public pressure.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will happen if the referendum fails?

Goetschel: Let’s not focus on that. But, in the very unlikely case that the Swiss population is puzzled (by this referendum), then I think that in the cantons where people did vote “yes,” the government administrations will still take it seriously. If the state voted yes, then the canton must appoint animal-welfare attorneys. Otherwise, the state government would be working against voters who acted in good faith. If you look at the data base we have compiled of all the animal welfare cases in Switzerland, you can see that in Zurich, for example, there are 190 cases a year, whereas in other states there is only one case a year. Some states take this work more seriously than others.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What else have you been doing to support the campaign to appoint animal-welfare attorneys?

Goetschel: I’m not a member of the initiating body. I’m just a person who knows a lot of the history and who knows all the arguments. So I can explain the job.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Switzerland already has some of the most far-reaching animal-welfare laws in the world. Since 2008, it has been illegal to keep animals that usually live in groups — such as goldfish, canaries or guinea pigs — alone, dog owners have to take a training course and, beginning in 2013, horses will not be able to be tied up in their stalls. The constitution even protects the “dignity” of plant life, and a Swiss ethics panel has said that the “decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason” is a bad thing. So why do you need more laws — or lawyers — in this area?

Goetschel: No, I don’t want to see more lawyers. And we’re not talking about creating new laws, either. From my point of view, I would be happy with one or two new terms being added to the existing legislation so as to ensure that existing animal-welfare laws are adhered to. Since there is a lack of interest in them in many places in Switzerland and Germany, they are not taken seriously. The changes would acknowledge the importance of human-animal relationships and ensure that the existing law in regard to them is properly applied. Since there has been an animal-welfare attorney here in Zurich for the past 18 years, everyone involved — the police, local veterinarians and animal-welfare organizations — takes these things more seriously. I consider myself a small cog in a big machine. But, without that small cog, there is a gap between the administrative part of animal-welfare organizations and (law-enforcement organizations). So the goal is to make sure that the state starts doing animal-welfare work properly and to make animal-welfare cases a normal thing.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How would you respond to the criticism that you just want to create more work for yourself and other lawyers?

Goetschel: Actually it’s a very poorly paid line of work. I don’t just do animal welfare work; I also practice regular law. As an animal-welfare attorney, I get about 200 francs an hour (€137/$186). For other work, I get between 350 and 400 francs an hour. If I didn’t do this, I could start to make more money as an attorney.

Interview conducted by Cathrin Schaer

Posted:  Just One More Pet

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Rights And Awareness, animals, Just One More Pet, Pets, Political Change, Unusual Stories | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turtle Crossing Stimulus Project Not Shovel Ready. As a Result, Many Turtles Are.

stimulatingThe office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a report [PDF] today highlighting 100 questionable projects in the stimulus bill.

My personal favorite, largely for the metaphor potential regarding the rate of stimulus spending, is number five: a turtle crossing in Florida. The “eco-passage” is an oldie but a goodie, this one clocking in at $3.4 million and counting in stimulus funds. Here’s a fun fact from the report:

The area has the highest road-kill mortality rate for turtles in the world.

But unlike many a neglected pet turtle, the project isn’t even “shovel ready.” It’s still in the design phase, according to Coburn’s report. So stimulus or no, the turtle genocide continues.

Reason has been all over another one of Coburn’s top ten—the John Murtha-Johnstown Cambria County Airport.

Read the whole thing here [PDF].

Katherine Mangu-Ward | June 16, 2009, 3:32pm

My question is if we have 3.4 Million Dollars to build a safe turtle crossing… how can California justify pulling the bulk of their shelter funds and killing thousands of healthy cats and dogs???  Hello, how about somebody in Congress or the Governor getting some stimulus funds to protect innocent animals in California?  –  Ask Marion/Just One More Pet

Please write/call/fax your State and Federal Congress-members, Senators, Governor Schwarzenegger, and the Stimulus Czar for aid for our helpless animal friends, and keep up the pressure until the funds come through.  A quick note to Oprah would help too!!

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June 17, 2009 Posted by | Animal Abandonement, Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Rescues, animals, Just One More Pet, Pet Adoption, Pet Friendship and Love, Pet Owner's Rights, Political Change, Stop Animal Cruelty, Stop Euthenization, Uncategorized, Unusual Stories, We Are All God's Creatures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Economic Forecast: One Million Pets May Lose Homes in the U.S.



The current U.S. financial crisis has the potential to grow into a serious animal welfare issue, warns Executive Vice President of ASPCA Programs, Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. As households across the country are caught in the economic downturn, an estimated 500,000 to one million cats and dogs are at risk of becoming homeless.

“According to national financial estimates, approximately one in 171 homes in the U.S. is in danger of foreclosure due to the subprime mortgage crisis,” Zawistowski observes. “Considering that approximately 63 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet, hundreds of thousands are in danger of being abandoned or relinquished to animal shelters.”

To avoid or ease the heartbreak of losing an animal companion due to economic hardship, the ASPCA urges pet owners who are faced with foreclosure to think of alternatives ahead of time:

  • See if friends, family or neighbors can provide temporary foster care for their pet until they get back on their feet.
  • If they are moving into a rental property, get written permission in advance that pets are allowed.
  • Contact their local animal shelter, humane society or rescue group before they move. If a shelter agrees to take the pet, they should provide medical records, behavior information and anything else that might help the pet find a new home.

“Everyone is being affected by the current economic crisis in some way,” says ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres. “Community animal shelters and rescue groups across the country may soon be seeing an increase in homeless pets or a decrease in the donations they rely on.”

We urge ASPCA News Alert readers to help in any way that you can:

  • Adopt a homeless pet.
  • Donate used blankets, towels or even tennis balls to your local animal shelter.
  • Foster adoptable animals until they find their forever homes.
  • Help community members who may be struggling to take care of their pets.

For more information on pets in the economic crisis, please visit our pressroom.

February 21, 2009 Posted by | Animal Abandonement, Animal Rights And Awareness, Just One More Pet, Pet Abuse, Pets, Political Change, responsible pet ownership, Stop Animal Cruelty, Stop Euthenization, We Are All God's Creatures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Orange County Sheriff’s Department asks pet owners to ‘buckle up’ their pets

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is joining forces with other agencies in an effort to remind pet owners to buckle up their pets.

On Wednesday, the department and pet safety advocate Bark Buckle Up will team up with the California Highway Patrol, Orange County Fire Authority, Anaheim Police Department and OC Animal Care to host a press conference regarding the growing safety concerns of having unrestrained pets in the car while driving. Bark Buckle UP pet safety program is traveling nationally to teach and promote pet safety while traveling with pets.

The need is evident. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, 98 percent of dogs travel unrestrained in vehicles with their owners. Losing a family pet in an accident is devastating, but the risks to vehicle riders and first responders called to help in the event of an accident can be significant.

“Any time lost in the caring of accident victims because of the need to deal with a frightened or injured animal can and should be avoided,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.

The Sheriff’s Department is taking a lead role by urging pet owners to safely secure their animals at all times. Bark Buckle Up will use live dogs of all sizes to demonstrate how to secure pets with available safety products, capable of safeguarding animals, owners and first responders. The 10 a.m. Nov. 12 event is at the OCSD Training Facility, 1900 W. Katella Ave. in Orange.

For more information about the press conference, contact OCSD Media Relations at 714-647-7042. Information about ways to secure pets and more is available at www.barkbuckleup.com.

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Animal Rights And Awareness, Just One More Pet, Pets, Success Stories | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments