Animals win legal recognition

The new law applies primarily to pets and "companion" animals. Keystone

Swiss pets will soon no longer be defined as "goods" or "objects" after parliament voted to grant them improved legal status.

This content was published on September 18, 2002 - 19:40

Instead, they will now be recognised as living things, having their own dignity and capable of feeling pain.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed a government-backed initiative which means that under the law animals will no longer be considered as mere objects or things.

"This recognition will lead to amendments in Switzerland's civil, criminal and administrative law," Luzius Mader of the justice ministry told swissinfo.

Family disputes

The new law will apply primarily to pets or "companion" animals. There is no special provision made for animals used in testing for scientific purposes.

Mader said federal laws already existed relating to the protection of animals in laboratories.

Under the terms of the new law, the right of ownership in cases of divorce or separation will be awarded to the person who is judged best able to look after the animal according to its needs.

Anybody finding an animal will be obliged to inform the owner and legal sanctions could be taken if he or she fails to do so.

In the case of an animal being injured or killed in an accident, the law will also provide the owner with the means of claiming compensation for the emotional loss of a pet, or for the costs of veterinary care.

Constitutional change

However, for some animal rights campaigners the new law does not go far enough.

The Franz Weber Foundation submitted one of two people's initiatives that were defeated in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

It welcomes the proposed changes in the law, but wants to see the rights of animals secured in the Swiss constitution and not just under statutory law.

"The law can be changed at any time," Judith Weber, vice president of the foundation told swissinfo.

"Of course we are pleased that animal rights will now be included in the law, but changes can be made and unmade.

"The only way to secure fixed rights for animals is to enshrine them in the constitution."

Campaign goes on

Weber said her foundation still wanted to see a change in the constitution and was not considering abandoning its campaign to take the issue to a nationwide vote.

She also criticised the new law for concentrating specifically on pets without paying enough attention to the rights of livestock.

"Farm animals that a bred for human consumption are still treated as merchandise," she said.

"They are being pumped full of antibiotics to such an extent that it is becoming more and more dangerous to consume them. Their rights also need to be addressed."

In 1999 a parliamentary refusal to discuss changes in the legal status of animals led to a public outcry.

Animal rights groups then collected enough signatures to be able to force a nationwide vote on changing the constitution.

Mader said the government felt the insistence by animal rights groups on a change to the constitution would have delayed the process of extending rights to animals.

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Animal rights

The new law means animals will no longer be classed as "objects".
Campaigners want the law enshrined in the constitution.
No provision for animals used in scientific experiments.

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