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Life looks up for Swiss animals


No one is to be allowed to keep a dog in Switzerland in future unless they follow a course in how to look after it properly.

Legislation to this effect comes into force on September 1, although there will be a grace period of two years while the courses are set up.

This is one of the amendments to the law on the protection of animals announced by the government on Wednesday.

But while tightening up the legislation, the authorities are keen to help people understand their domestic animals, whether kept as pets or on the farm, and to treat them correctly.

The Federal Veterinary Office has launched an information campaign entitled "Keeping animals properly", giving helpful tips about looking after animals ranging from cats and dogs to horses and chickens.

The law on the protection of animals was passed by parliament in 2005. It was then the task of the government to refine the details, taking into account the comments of interested parties.

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard told journalists that the issue was a very emotional one and framing the law had not been easy.

"We had more than 500 submissions during the consultation procedure. It took a while to analyse the responses. And as you can expect there was a wide range of responses. There were organisations which criticised that protection measures for animals don't go far enough and organisations which said the protection was exaggerated."

One of the interest groups which had to be taken into account was the farmers.

"We believe a high level of protection for animals is important for Swiss agriculture. Consumers associate quality products with healthy and animal-friendly husbandry. We are convinced that this is important for marketing our products at home and abroad, especially at a time of liberalised trade," Leuthard explained.

Owners' responsibilities

The new legislation focuses on the responsibilities of animal owners.

It is not only dog owners who must take lessons; all those dealing with animals in a professional capacity, including farmers and animal transporters, as well as people keeping wild or zoo animals will also have to attend relevant courses.

As far as dogs are concerned, new owners will have to take two or three preliminary lessons before acquiring the animal, and follow this up with practical training along with the dog over the next year.

The Veterinary Office will draw up the details in the next few months. A list of recognised instructors will be posted on the internet.

Specific types of animal – cats, horses, fish, goats and sheep - are given their own chapter in the legislation, to ensure that they are kept in conditions which do not lead to behaviour problems or physical defects.

Social animals, like guinea pigs and budgerigars, are also to get more protection: people will no longer be allowed to keep only one, and minimum cage sizes are being enlarged.

New provisions also ensure that farm animals have sufficient space to move around in, and it will be forbidden to keep any animal permanently tethered.

But Leuthard made clear that the police were not going to be snooping on every individual with a pet.

"We don't want a state which spies on its citizens. We are not going to have the police searching individual households to see how your pussy-cat is doing and checking there are there are two of them in a household. But if serious abuses of animals are reported the cases have to be taken seriously," she said.

Implementation

Each canton will set up its own specialised animal protection service. Priorities have already been set, and a report on the situation regarding animal protection will be published regularly.

The Swiss Animal Protection organisation welcomed the "progress" made in the new legislation as far as pets are concerned. However, it described the measures to protect farm animals as over cautious. It said the minimum space allowed per animal would still be too small.

swissinfo with agencies

Animals in Switzerland

There are an estimated seven million pets in Switzerland.

Cats are the most popular, followed by dogs.

There are more than 11 million farm animals, including nearly 7.5 million chickens.

There are about 1.7 million head of cattle, and 1.4 million pigs.

Cattle account for nearly half the income of Swiss agriculture.

Industrial animal husbandry is forbidden in Switzerland by animal (and water) protection laws.

In 1992 Switzerland was the first country in the world to announce that it would phase out battery chickens.

Buildings for livestock must be approved by the authorities.

New methods of species-appropriate animal husbandry are constantly being tested.



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