On Sunday Switzerland voted against assigning lawyers to abused creatures though it boasts laws to protect goldfish from being flushed down the toilet and to guarantee companions for lonely animals.
Just over 70 percent of voters chose the "no" option in a referendum on the issue and nearly 30 percent said "yes", according to results released after the day's voting.
AdvertisementSunday's referendum was initiated by the Swiss Animal Protection (PSA) group and would have obliged all cantons to name a lawyer for animals during judicial proceedings.
Legal representation in cases involving mistreated animals has been compulsory since 1992 in the Zurich canton. But pet politics could have been taken to a new level if voters had extended the right to the other 25 mini-states.
The quirky lawyers-for-animals poll is the latest example of Switzerland's "direct democracy" in which any citizen who collects 100,000 signatures from eligible voters can force a nationwide referendum on their chosen cause.
"It is not about Paris Hilton's dog now needing a lawyer to represent its interests," said Antoine Goetschel, Switzerland's only lawyer mandated by his canton in Zurich to handle animal welfare cases.
It is about protecting animals who are harmed by the very people who are meant to take care of them, Goetschel said ahead of the vote.
The problem is that the animal has "no rights", unlike humans who can prosecute the person who has caused harm, he said.
Environment groups, the Green and Socialist parties supported the initiative. But the government, parliament and the country's biggest party, the far-right Swiss People's Party, were against.
A lawyer's presence would however not have ushered in a slew of children being prosecuted for pulling a mosquito's leg off, said Green lawmaker Adele Thorenz Goumaz, as the rejected law only covered "vertebrates" raised or used by man.
"In reality, lawyers for animals have a limited role. They can only work when there are penal procedures stemming from a violation of the law," she told the Le Temps newspaper.
The strongest opposition was in the countryside. "It will generate too much bureaucracy," complained Urs Schneider, spokesman for the Swiss Farmers' Union.
"Switzerland already has existing laws to protect animals," he told AFP.
Switzerland already has one of the world's most comprehensive laws on animal rights.
Under laws revised in 2008, people wanting to get rid of a fish cannot flush it down a toilet bowl alive. It must be knocked out, killed and then its body disposed of.
Sociable household pets such as budgies and hamsters cannot be left alone. Even sheep and goats must have at least a "visual contact with their fellows".
"We have very good laws... but unfortunately they're not applied with the severity that we'd like," said animal rights defender Samuel Debrot.
The law's advocates say that Zurich's experience of lawyers for animals has shown that the system can lighten the public prosecutor's load.
The canton paid 78,000 francs (53,000 euros/72,600 dollars) last year to Goetschel, far less than a typical lawyer dealing with other cases.
Ethnologist Jacques Hainard said Sunday's referendum could be seen as misdirected anthropomorphism and as a sign of excessive compassion that reflects "a rich country's pathology".
You May Also Like