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Stiffer penalties demanded for animal abusers

Animal-rights campaigners say animals deserve more attention

(Keystone Archive)

Cruelty against animals needs to be punished more harshly according to animal protection advocates in Switzerland, who say that many cases go unreported.

The Zurich-based Foundation for Animals and Law said on Monday that specialised lawyers were also needed to defend animal rights.

Animals benefited from less protection last year than in 2003, said the foundation's director, Antoine Goetschel. Only 453 penal decisions for cruelty were handed down in 2004, 77 less than the year before.

"It is not that the real number of cases of abuse has fallen, but that abuse against animals is being taken less seriously," said Goetschel. "The authorities often don't have the skills needed to enforce animal protection legislation."

The foundation is therefore calling for specialised animal lawyers in each canton. Only canton Zurich provides a legal expert for animal protection matters, in place since 1992.

The canton's judicial system has dealt with 1,000 cases of animal cruelty in the past ten years, nearly one third of all those recorded in Switzerland.

Too lenient

But the foundation says that at least one third of all cases of abuse are not denounced.

It also criticises what it considers to be too lenient sentencing, well below what is recommended under animal protection legislation. Abusers usually only get a SFr500 ($384) fine, said the foundation.

"The authorities should show more courage and inflict sentences proportional to the pain suffered by animals," said Goetschel.

The foundation has created a database that lists all the sentences - around 3,500 - handed down for animal abuse since 1982. Just over half the cases involved farm animals, while another third concerned pets.

It was one of the backers of recently introduced animal rights legislation. Animals are considered living creatures under current Swiss law, whereas previously they only had the status of objects.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Since 1982, the Federal Veterinary Office has registered 3,500 cases of animal abuse that were sanctioned by the judicial authorities.
Over half the cases involved farm animals, while another third concerned pets.

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In brief

The Foundation for Animals and Law's demands come as a number of cantons are facing a series of cases of animal torture.

Since early June, farmers have found around 60 animals (donkeys, cows, sheep) that have been mutilated.

However, it seems that only one third of the animals that were injured actually suffered from some form of physical abuse.

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