This Swiss lawyer specializing in the legal support of our smaller brothers is known throughout Europe. “I don’t breed animals,” says Antoine Götschel, referring not to breeding but to handling divorce cases in which spouses share a pet. He deals with civil law, not criminal law. Unfortunately, there are more than enough cases like this.
Antoine Goetschel lives in Zurich. The lawyer is a great friend of animals. In 2008, his clients included 138 dogs, 28 farm animals, 12 cats, 7 rabbits, 5 rams and 5 birds. He protected rams deprived of drinking water troughs; pigs living in a tight fence; cows that are not let out of the stall in winter or a domestic reptile that has withered to death due to the negligence of the owners. The last case that the animal lawyer worked on was the case of a breeder who kept 90 dogs in more than bad conditions. It ended with a peace agreement, according to which the dog owner must now pay a fine.
Antoine Goetschel starts work when the Cantonal Veterinary Service or an individual files a complaint of animal cruelty with the Federal Criminal Court. In this case, the Animal Welfare Act applies here. As in the investigation of crimes of which people are victims, a lawyer examines evidence, calls witnesses, and asks for expert opinions. His fees are 200 francs per hour, plus the payment of an assistant 80 francs per hour – these costs are borne by the state. “This is the minimum that a lawyer receives, who defends a person “free of charge”, that is, his services are paid for by social services. The animal welfare function brings about a third of my office’s income. Otherwise, I do what most lawyers do: divorce cases, inheritances … ”
Maitre Goetschel is also a staunch vegetarian. And for about twenty years he has been studying special literature, studying the intricacies of jurisprudence in order to determine the legal status of the animal on which he relies in his work. He advocates that living beings should not be viewed by humans as objects. In his opinion, defending the interests of the “silent minority” is similar in principle to protecting the interests of children in relation to whom parents do not fulfill their duties, as a result, children become victims of crime or neglect. At the same time, the accused can take another lawyer in court, who, being a good professional, is able to influence the decision of the judges in favor of a bad owner.
“I would gladly send some owners to prison,” Goetschel admits. “But, of course, for much shorter terms than for other crimes.”
However, soon the master will be able to share his four-legged and feathered clientele with his colleagues: on March 7, a referendum will be held in Switzerland, in which residents will vote for an initiative requiring for each canton (territorial-administrative unit) an official defender of animal rights in court. This federal measure is to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act. In addition to introducing the position of an animal advocate, the initiative provides for the standardization of punishments for those who mistreat their smaller brothers.
So far, this position has only been officially introduced in Zurich, in 1992. It is this city that is considered the most advanced in Switzerland, and the oldest vegetarian restaurant is also located here.