Animal Rights

Why Switzerland May Be the Best Country in the World—If You're a Pet

Under Swiss law, guinea pigs, parrots and goldfish must have companions of their own species.

Photo Credit: aurelie le moigne/Shutterstock

Humans share their homes and lives with a wide variety of nonhuman animals. However, globally, companion animals are considered to be objects under existing laws. Regulations and laws protecting companion and other animals don't come close to keeping up with what we know about their cognitive and emotional lives.

In our book The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human AgeJessica Pierce and I call this the "knowledge translation gap." One of the most egregious failures to use what we know to protect other animals is the claim by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in the United States that laboratory rats and mice are not animals (please see "The Animal Welfare Act Claims Rats and Mice Are Not Animals" and links therein). Of course, this is a great example of biological illiteracy, yet very few scientists have actually called this folly into question. 

Switzerland is a leader in improving the working and living conditions of animals. A good review of its regulations is offered in Laura Burge's essay, "10 Reasons Switzerland Is a Great Place to Be a Pet." Her essay is available online, so here are some incredibly favorable regulations that include a wide variety of animals including guinea pigs, cats, dogs, fish, parrots, and rabbits. 

Ms. Burge notes that under Swiss law guinea pigs, parrots and goldfish must have companions, and matchmaking services for guinea pigs have been formed. Cats need to be able to interact with other cats or at least see other cats from their homes. Fish also must experience natural day and night cycles. Rabbits must be able have privacy in their enclosures. In this sense, privacy is a freedom and many other animals other than rabbits also need to be able to get away from it all when they choose to do so. 

Concerning dogs, Ms. Burge writes, "Before bringing a dog into a new home, a person must provide a certificate of competence demonstrating that they know how to deal with and treat dogs. If they can prove that they’ve already had a dog, though, they’re off the hook." (From 2017 onward, training courses will no longer be obligatory, but each region can have its own regulations.)

Dogs also must be exercised regularly and be off leash as much as possible. They also must be able to run freely for at least five hours a day and clipping their ears and tails is forbidden. Numerous dogs are highly stressed as they try to adapt to a human-dominated world, despite the best intentions of their humans (for more discussion on this topic please see "Dogs Want and Need Much More Than They Usually Get From Us").

Swiss regulations are a good example of animal protection keeping up with the science centering on what animals know, feel, need, and want. For example, fish are intelligent, emotional beings, and it's about time that they are granted protection that takes into account just whom they are.

All in all, Swiss animal protection regulations set an admirable standard for other countries to follow, and I hope numerous other countries will follow in their footsteps. Of course there still is a lot of hard work to be done, but as Burge concludes, "While Switzerland, like most other countries, are far from achieving perfect animal welfare laws and enforcement, they have made some good progress that other countries would do well to keep an eye on." 

It's an understatement to stress that other animals need all the help they can get. Keeping up with what we know about them isn't asking too much. Indeed, it's long overdue, because the amount of pain and suffering and unnecessary and brutal deaths to which other animals are routinely subjected each and every second of each and every day is inexcusable.

The science about what other animals know, feel, need, and want clearly shows we are routinely and egregiously failing them. It's high time that researchers and others stop saying they need to see data before they change their ways and grant more protection to other animals. Detailed information has been available for rather a long time. The data simply have been conveniently and self-servingly ignored and such anti-science must be called into question. 

This article was originally published by Psychology Today.

Marc Bekoff’s latest book is The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Lives For Dogs and Us will be published in early 2018. His homepage is marcbekoff.com.

 

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