All of us who have a pet have probably had one or more similar experiences at some point in time. It is the weekend and you decide to catch up on some sleep. However, your pet begs to differ. My cat for example will come and sit on top of me, rub her head, knead, and purr to get me to get up and feed her. So far, so good. If I give in and get up, she will be happy. If I decide to turn around one more time, no harm done. But what if my cat instead decided that my decision not to get up to feed her constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment?” (You might have seen the way cats look at you accusingly when you don’t do what they want…). And then retained a lawyer and sued me? Sounds crazy?
Well maybe not so crazy after all. Lately, there have been a lot of news stories about “animal standing.” In Oregon for example, a horse sued its owner for damages for pain and suffering and sought $100,000 for veterinary care (the horse, however, was oblivious that it was the litigant in such a case). And don’t we all remember the monkey who asserted copyright in his selfie with the help of PETA? More and more we hear about animal rights lawyers trying to sue on behalf of animal plaintiffs as a novel way to enforce animal rights laws.
Whereas activists in the United States and in other countries are trying to gradually move the courts towards granting animals standing and more rights, Switzerland, which used to be a forerunner in this area, is moving the opposite way. In 1992, the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, introduced the position of “attorney for animal protection in criminal matters” (animal lawyer), who had standing to sue on behalf of animals during any criminal proceeding in which animals were judged to be the “victim.” (Cantonal Animal Protection Act, §17). In 2010, the Swiss people voted on a popular initiative that would have obligated all Swiss cantons to have such an animal lawyer in criminal proceedings to represent the interests of the abused animals. However, 70.5% of the voters rejected the popular initiative. In the canton of Zurich, 63.5% voted against it. In the aftermath of the 2010 Federal popular initiative, the cantonal parliament of Zurich decided to abolish the position of animal lawyer.
Animals under Swiss Law
1. Human beings and their environment shall be protected against the misuse of gene technology.
2. The Confederation shall legislate on the use of reproductive and genetic material from animals, plants and other organisms. In doing so, it shall take account of the dignity of living beings as well as the safety of human beings, animals and the environment, and shall protect the genetic diversity of animal and plant species. (Emphasis by author.)
Furthermore, article 80 of the Constitution states that
1. The Confederation shall legislate on the protection of animals.
2. It shall in particular regulate:
a. the keeping and care of animals;
b. experiments on animals and procedures carried out on living animals;
c. the use of animals;
d. the import of animals and animal products;
e. the trade in animals and the transport of animals;
f. the killing of animals.
3. The enforcement of the regulations is the responsibility of the Cantons, except
where the law reserves this to the Confederation.
On the basis of article 80 of the Constitution, Switzerland enacted the Federal Animal Protection Act (TSchG) and the Federal Animal Protection Ordinance (TSchV), among other laws. The aim of the Animal Protection Act is to “protect the dignity and the well-being of the animal.” (Animal Protection Act, art. 1, translation by author). “Animal dignity” is defined as “the inherent worth of the animal, which must be respected when handling it”. (Id. art. 3, lit. a, translation by author). Furthermore, in 2003, the Swiss Civil Code was amended to reflect that animals were no longer considered objects. It should be noted, however, that the law does not define what exact legal status they have. Article 641a of the Swiss Civil Code provides that
1. Animals are not objects.
2. Where there exist no special regulations for animals, the provisions for objects apply.
Animal Dignity under Swiss Law
Among these many protections, I would like to highlight a few Swiss law provisions that implement the principle of “animal dignity.”
The Animal Protection Ordinance for example provides that all animals must be provided with food and water on a regular and sufficient basis. (Animal Protection Ordinance, art. 4, translation by author). (My cat sure would love that one!).
Article 13 states that “social animals must be allowed to have social contacts with animals of the same species.” Such animals are, among others, parrots, goldfish, and guinea pigs who may only be kept in pairs of two or more. Single cats must have daily contact with humans or at least visual contact with other cats. (Id. art. 80). Likewise, dogs must have contact with humans and, as far as possible, with other dogs on a daily basis. (Id. art. 70).
Just recently in February 2018, the Animal Protection Ordinance was amended and now prohibits throwing live lobsters into cooking water. The amendment added crustaceans such as lobsters to the list of animals that have to be rendered unconscious before they can be killed (Id. art. 178), because they can “feel suffering and are sentient beings.” (Translation by author).
Overall, it is safe to say that Switzerland is a great place to be a pet.
If you would like to learn more about animal rights in general or in Switzerland, please consult one of the many resources available at the Law Library of Congress or online. A sample selection can be found below:
Describe your background. What is your academic/professional history?
I am an Information Technology Specialist with many years of experience developing online systems for both the federal and private sectors. Prior to coming to the Library of Congress, I worked for the House of Representatives and Electronic Data Systems (EDS) as a software developer. At the House, I was mentored by seasoned programmers who taught me to ‘Think twice, code once’. It took a minute for me to learn that habit, but I did learn and it has served me well throughout my career. I picked up other habits from those seasoned programmers, but I won’t go into those.
During my tenure at the Library of Congress, my career has navigated from software developer to quality assurance tester to business analyst to scrum master. I have worked on the following software applications: ACQUIRE, THOMAS, Payroll Analysis Module, Copyright’s Online Service Provider, and Congress.gov and worked on special projects, such as the annual IT investment proposals and MOU’s for Library of Congress service units under the OCIO management.
How would you describe your job to other people?
As a scrum master, I do anything possible to help the Congress.gov team perform at their highest level and meet their delivery goals. This involves helping to remove any impediments to progress, facilitating meetings, and doing things like working with the project manager and product owner to make sure the product backlog is in good shape and ready for the next sprint.
What is your role in the development of Congress.gov?
As a quality assurance lead tester, I played a significant role in helping the team develop techniques, processes and best practices to implement and continuously improve the testing function of Congress.gov.
As a scrum master, I support the team in reinforcing the Agile scrum process and other rules the team has agreed upon. I also coordinate and develop standards and best practices for all story grooming activities.
What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov?
Congress.gov offers the ability to set up alerts on saved searches or alerts for legislation, nominations, member profiles, and the Congressional Record. Saved search alerts are emailed to you whenever the number of items in your saved search results changes. Each time there is a new Congressional Record or new activity on a specific bill, nomination or Member legislation, an email is sent to you. To get alerts, you must first sign in or create an account.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process while working on Congress.gov?
Congressional committees wield power. I learned that the fate of many bills is determined when they reach a committee. Much of the policy expertise resides in these committees. When a member of Congress introduces legislation, that bill with a few exceptions will be referred to a committee or committees for examination and further action (amend the legislation; vote on changes; hold hearings, etc.). Once the bill is released from the committee and returned back to the House chamber, a number of legislative activities could take place before the bill reaches the President’s desk for signature.
However, if the committee chooses to stop action or “table” a bill it deems unwise or unnecessary, then this is the equivalent of killing it.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I am a fan of country western music. I was introduced to it by a coworker who listened constantly to Reba McEntire. In my opinion, country western and R&B (of which I’m also a die-hard fan) are similar. The songs in each genre have virtually interchangeable lyrics about love, loss, betrayal, and looking for that silver lining. It’s quite soulful music, so don’t be surprised to see me at a Garth Brooks or Shania Twain concert!
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