What Can We Learn from Switzerland’s Strong Animal Welfare Laws

Lawmakers in Switzerland are focusing on advances on laws pertaining to animal welfare. Switzerland sets the bar high for other countries with strong animal protection laws. The Swiss Ordinance on the Protection of Animals Act was enacted in 2008. Since then the country is one of the most progressive on animal law in the world. Other countries can learn from them.

Some of these new laws include a crackdown on puppy mills and banning automatic shock collars that zap dogs for barking or that are being used to correct behaviour. Article 76 of the Animal Welfare Ordinance (“Ordinance”) states that training aids cannot be used to injure, induce substantial pain, or severely frighten your pet. Anyone who wishes to use these types of training aides must apply with the Federal Department of Economic Affairs for an exemption by using evidence of their qualifications in handling animals. This exempted person is required to document all uses of the equipment and provide an explanation why the equipment was used in the circumstances as a training tool.

It gets better though. Thinking about adopting a dog? Article 68 of the Ordinance states that you must complete a canine care course and learn more about dogs and proper care before you can buy or adopt. This course is intended to teach dog guardians about the responsibilities and proper care in becoming a dog owner, so that people are discouraged from impulsive purchasing of dogs. Within one year of becoming a dog guardian you must complete a certificate for keeping the dog under control in everyday situations. The completion of this certificate can lower the chance of the dog being given up and surrendered into an animal shelter down the road.

Article 70 of the Swiss Ordinance goes even further and states that dogs cannot be left alone for an entire day and must have sufficient contact with other humans and where possible, other dogs as well. Additionally, dogs kept in kennels or boxes must be paired with a friendly companion dog for company. If the human guardian does not have or cannot find a companion dog to share, the dog may be left alone for only short periods of time. This acknowledges that dogs are social creatures that crave companionship and their innate nature for connections to others.

Switzerland is making further progress as they recognize that animals can feel pain and have conscious feelings. Although animals have different brains and body structures than humans do, animals can think, feel, and experience life in similar ways that we do. Gary Francione and Anna Charlton argued in their article “Why We Must Respect the Rights of All Sentient Animals” acknowledging an animal’s ability to think or feel is the first step in recognizing that animals have interests against being used as property or resources for human consumption.

Switzerland has made a commitment to codify in legislation that animals can feel pain with a crackdown on the treatment of lobsters. In March 1st of 2018, it will be illegal to boil lobsters alive in Switzerland. In addition to not boiling them alive, lobsters will no longer be able to be transported on ice or in ice water. Animals being used as food or clothing etc. is another debate, however, there is no reason for cruel and unusual treatment.

We as humans know that animals feel pain. They communicate in many ways to tell us. Dogs bark, whine or howl when they are in pain. Cats meow to tell you something is wrong. When lobsters are being boiled alive, they don’t relax; rather they tense up, if they had vocal chords they would likely scream. Society has come a long way to acknowledge that non-human animals have feelings and suffer and this has been codified in legislation in certain jurisdictions with stronger animal legislation that recognizes that animals are sentient beings.

In contrast, Canadian animal welfare laws are severely lacking. Both the Provincial and Federal Government can legislate on these subjects and neither has effectively addressed the issue. In Ontario the governing legislation is the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.36 (OSPCA). Section 11.2 prohibits causing or permitting “distress” in animals. According to Section 1 of this Act, distress is only defined as preventing an animal from being hungry, thirsty, sick.

Other than specifically prohibiting animal fighting or harm to law enforcement animals, there is no clear explanation of what is or is not appropriate behaviour as we saw outlined in the Swiss Ordinance. This means a wide variety of cruel behaviours may be allowed if they do not fall within one of the hungry, thirsty, or sick categories. Further, as a provincial offence the punishments available to an offender are severely limited. Section 13 of the OSPCA Act says that an animal may be confiscated and Section 14 states that the owner may be liable for any costs incurred, but otherwise the owner can escape from punishment mostly unscathed.

Recently an attempt to improve Canada’s Federal animal cruelty laws was made with Bill C-246. The Bill would have created a new offence in the Criminal Code R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46 for individuals who cause suffering to animals through “gross negligence.” Currently, section 445.1 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to “wilfully” cause pain or suffering to an animal. The “wilful” standard is more difficult to meet than the proposed “gross negligence” of Bill C-246 because whether an act was “wilful” must subjectively be proven based on the accused individual’s thoughts at the time of the incident. In contrast, the “gross negligence” standard is objectively assessed based on whether a “reasonable third person” would believe the suffering or harm was a violation of the section. Unfortunately, Bill C-246 was defeated by a vote of 194-84 on October 5, 2016.

It’s time for all lawmakers, and for us the constituents, to make a change and acknowledge that animals are sentient beings: they can feel pain and have a range of emotions. We need to help protect them with stronger animal laws similar to other countries such as Switzerland that specifically outline what is and what is not required from animal owners to provide their pets with the best quality of life possible. Please share this article and advocate for these changes.