OK, there is now some doubt about whether we are the craziest society on earth. I just read a Wall Street Journal article about a referendum that will occur tomorrow - Sunday 3/7/2010. The Swiss people will be voting on whether the government needs to provide animal lawyers - public defenders for "animal rights". Now, I think animal abuse is awful. Anyone that would purposefully harm a defenseless animal should be punished legally and by society. However, Switzerland has taken this idea to a whole new level. They already have one animal public defender that operates in one of the cantons (kind of like our states, or "super"-counties). He recently prosecuted a fisherman over the abuse of a pike. This abuse occurred while a fisherman was catching the defendant (pike). The legal argument was based on the fact that the fisherman took too long to land the defendant and caused it undue suffering. The court threw the case out, but only because the court said it had no jurisdiction due to the fact that the defendant was not a resident of that canton and the abuse did not occur there.
FYI, Switzerland already has the most over-reaching of laws concerning "animal rights". Prospective dog owners must take a state approved four hour course before buying a pet. Social species like fish, birds, and yaks (a lovely pet I'm sure!) must be kept with companions, and sold in pairs (or more). There are even specific directions in the law about how to "put down" a sick fish with a humane blow to the head or by immersing it in water mixed with clove oil diluted in alcohol. A 2003 Swiss law requires that animals be treated as sentient beings, not property.
As I said, although I do not believe animals have "rights". I do believe they deserve humane treatment. Pets deserve love and respect in addition to food and water. However, when farmers are fearful of being dragged to court every time they "harvest" animals for their meat and hides, fisherman are afraid to take to long to land a catch, or hunters must be wary of any "abuse" when legally hunting; we have a problem.
I will be watching for the results of the referendum in Switzerland. I will be expecting the same here at some point.