Roger writing the LAWmag
14
Mar 2010

Pet Lawyer: The Amazing Antoine Goetschel

Antoine Goetschel is not your average lawyer.

Not by a dog bite.

He may have the coolest business card as the world's only dedicated District Animal Rights Attorney.

Animal Lawyer. Pet Lawyer.

Nestled in Switzerland, in the small district of Zurich, Goetshel is a controversial Swiss experiment: a dedicated animal welfare lawyer (according to the Wall Street Journal, Goetschel is also a descendant of the great composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff). He has been Pet Lawyer since 1997, and he can initiate and intervene in any animal protection or animal abuse cases in the district of Zurich, all on the public dime, and at nice lawyer hourly rates.

Antoine GoetschelThe novel idea is far from catching on even in Switzerland where a March 7, 2010 referendum aimed at making the office nation-wide was rejected. The referendum had been spearheaded by the Swiss SPCA but publically opposed by the Swiss government and the Swiss Parliament, not to mention Swiss farmers that don’t need another Big Brother shadow.

Goetschel blamed the result on society’s disdain for all things lawyer and that the lawyer in court would be subsidized by the Swiss taxpayer.

Bark, Meow or Purr

But Goetschel has his marching orders in Zurich and he soldiers on. His clients usually bark, meow or purr their instructions.

Recently, Goetschel instituted proceedings for a 4-foot long pike allegedly abused for having been played on a fishing line for ten minutes, before being unceremoniously knocked cold. The last straw for Goetschel was a picture in the local newspaper of the grinning fisherman with his very stiff and smelly prize: a 22-pound dead pike.

The Swiss court bared its teeth at Goetschel and threw out the animal abuse charge against the fisherman. According to the Montreal Gazette, Goetschel maintained that the pike was tortured:

“It took 10 minutes of struggle to reel the pike in before killing it. I regard that as cruelty. If someone had done that to a puppy or kitten, there would have been outrage.”

Like him or loath him, Antoine Goetschel is a bird of a different feather. A 2010 Wall Street Journal credits an accident that left him speechless for a few days as prompting the animal lawyer epiphany.

If that is true, one can assume that he believes that animals have rationale thoughts; they’re just unable to express them.

Hello!

Fish seem to be his pet project. In another fish case, he prosecuted game show contestants that had to grab live fish in a pool. He argued that this violated the fish’s right to dignity.

Shocker: again, he lost.

Goetschel juggles state law and family law with his public animal rights contract. Meanwhile, he’s got some lawyers wondering whether he’s a legal eccentric, or on to something.

In Switzerland, in any case, and since 2003, the Civil Code Swiss flag + pikerecognizes animals as something more than their owner’s chattel.

Goetschel seems ready to go the extra mile for his furry clients. In an undated interview given to the Australian Animal Protection Institute, he bravely calls animal abuse which results in the animal’s death, “murder” and asserts:

“The official attorney represents the animals' interests as if the animal was a human being.”

Swiss law:

  • Prohibits flushing goldfish down the toilet alive;
  • Makes prospective dog owners take a 4-hour course on dog care;
  • Sets minimum space requirements for some pet rodents;
  • Choke collars on dogs are prohibited;
  • Puppies cannot be separated from their mothers until they are at least 56 days old;
  • Prohibits keeping social animals such as hamsters and parrots in cages alone; and
  • Mandates a minimal temperature for the habitat of pet frogs.

In neighbouring France, by comparison, the Civil Code mirrors the traditional English common law approach and unequivocally calls animals “movables” (chattels).

As animal lawyer, Goetshcel’s job is to intervene on behalf of the speechless animal. He says that in animal abuse cases, the alleged abuser hires a lawyer but no-one represents the animal. That’s where he steps in. He told the BBC:

"Why shouldn't someone speak for the animal as well?"

In an interview published at swissinfo.ch, he added:

“I compare animal rights debates to the debates society used to have regarding child protection or abused spousal abuse or of any minority that cannot properly defend itself. Defending the rights of animals is a sign of compassion towards all vulnerable living things.”

Avant-garde or Arrieré?

In a perfect world, we would not need animal lawyers: there would be no animal cruelty.

But in an imperfect world with limited resources, priorities have to be established. All law enforcement pet projects cost money and entail trade-offs.

The issue of animal rights raises spiritual issues: what is an animal in the grand scheme of things? We have been "murdering" and eating them regularly since our cave men days and even before.

Fast-forward to the office of the good Swiss Dr. Doolittle, Antoine Goetschel, Esquire and Pet Lawyer.

Do we want criminal prosecutions because of a careless death of an earthworm on a walk to Starbucks or – Oh! The humanity! – the murder (first degree) of a healthy mosquito that buzzed too close to a human head.

Meanwhile, the evidence of the dead pike has reportedly been eaten.

REFERENCES:

  • afgoetschel.com
  • Ball, D., “Scales of Justice: In Zurich, Even Fish Have a Lawyer “, Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2010
  • Bauch, H., “A New Breed of Lawyer”, Montreal Gazette, March 14, 2010, page A3
  • Dentz, A., “Suisse: Un avocat pour défendre les animaux maltraités”, Journal L’Alsace, March 6, 2010
  • Foulkes, I., Swiss ask whether animals need lawyers”, BBC, March 6, 2010
  • Le Parisien, "Les avocats pour les animaux ? En Suisse, c’est sérieux", March 6, 2010
  • Swiss Ordinance on the Protection of Animals of 2008

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