November 09, 2005
Rome's unparalleled pet ordinance covered in LA Times
Comment on lagging Americans by Ingrid Newkirk

Last month, Rome, Italy, introduced a new Ordinance which made news worldwide. It is covered in the Wednesday, November 9, Los Angeles Times in an article headed, "Rome's Pet Ordinance Has Tails and Tongues Wagging; Rules aimed at protecting animals' rights are praised by activists, but can the city really enforce them?"

We learn that in Rome, goldfish can no longer be confined to bowls. They are "entitled to a proper, full-sized aquarium, and they can no longer be given out as contest prizes." And "In addition to affording protection for fish, the measure requires dog owners to walk their canines daily or face a $625 fine. It also bans the display of pets for sale in store windows, and gives legal recognition to Rome's famous 'gattare', the 'cat ladies' who feed an army of strays. Also forbidden: choke and electrical collars and, for dogs and cats, declawing and the clipping of tails and ears for cosmetic reasons."

The article tells us that activists express reservations about enforcement -- always an issue with animal protection laws. But we read that Christian Bedini, from Rome's animal rights office "said enforcement will rely more on education than police action."

Indeed, just having such laws on the books are a way of letting citizens know that society considers certain treatment to be unacceptable. The laws will not easily stop people intent on abusing animals but will certainly influence the behavior of those who have no wish to do the wrong thing, for example those, in Rome, who might not previously have considered the cruelty of a goldfish bowl, or cosmetic surgery for pets.

You'll find the whole article on line at: Los Angeles Times,0,7797988.story?coll=la-story-footer&track=morenews 

The story presents a great opportunity for letters encouraging similar legislation in the United States. The Los Angeles Times takes letters at

The story is also on the websites of the following papers:
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
eTaiwan News, Taiwan
Salt Lake Tribune, UT
Canton Repository, OH
New York Newsday, NY
The Register-Guard, Oregon
Newark Star Ledger, NJ
Seattle Times, WA

You'll find links to the story in above papers at: 

If one of the above is your local paper, please consider writing a quick letter to your editor. If you have any trouble finding the correct address for a letter to your editor, don't hesitate to ask me for help. And I am always happy to edit letters.

Finally, the Myrtle Beach Sun News (SC) website has an opinion piece on our treatment of animals by Ingrid Newkirk. It uses the new Rome law as a jump-off point and addresses many issues beautifully. I will paste it below. The paper takes letters at and advises, "Because The Sun News verifies all letters before publication, writers should include their names, addresses and daytime and evening phone numbers. Letters will be edited for clarity and length. Priority will be given to letters that are 150 or fewer words..." The paper avoids publishing "Letters published in other publications" and "Copies of letters sent to someone else."

Animal treatment reflects on country


While some residents of the last hurricanes were abandoning their dogs and cats as if they were candy wrappers and some rescuers were threatening to leave even sick and old people behind unless they disentangled themselves from their beloved dogs, legislators in Rome were deliberating a bill, which has just passed, that affords proper respect even to pet fish.

Now, if you live in Italy, you may face a hefty fine if you keep a goldfish in a small bowl, fail to provide the dog with a decent walk three times a day, use an electric-shock collar or declaw a cat.

Why are we such laggards in the U.S.? Americans have access to the same scientific data as the Italians, so we certainly should be aware of studies showing that fish have long-term memories, communicate to each other and have chums and enemies, as well as likes and dislikes. Common sense tells us it can't be easy for a dog to be left alone, crossing his legs, for 12 hours a day. Our own veterinarians should be warning us that electric-shock collars hurt and that declawing involves cutting off the phalanges, the muscle and flesh, at the joint on each "finger," not just the nail.

Italians are now expected to understand these facts and follow the law. Offenders face fines of 50 to 500 euros, which is enough to make most people pay attention, even if they would have ignored the fish circling the bowl and the dog scratching the door.

The Times of London quotes Monica Cirinna, the city councilor responsible for animal welfare, as saying: "The civilization of a city can be measured by the way it looks after its pets. It is good to do whatever we can for our pets, who fill our existence with their attention in exchange for a little love."

Before Italy began debating the rights of animals, Germany changed its constitution to recognize other species. In 2002, the German Parliament amended the constitutional clause obliging the state to respect and protect the dignity of humans to include animals.

Yet in the U.S., it's often a monumental battle to pass far less advanced laws, such as banning or restricting the chaining of dogs and mandatory spay/neuter ordinances to reduce the euthanasia rate. The only law protecting animals in laboratories and on factory farms, the Animal Welfare Act, specifically excludes mice and chickens, the two species most commonly used for experimentation and food, respectively.

Lawyers who have sought the right to sue on behalf of abused animals have seen their cases dismissed time after time for decades. In the eyes of the American legal system, animals are property and their value is based solely on monetary worth. Legally, a monkey in a laboratory has no intrinsic value as a living being. Her worth is determined on what her captors can do to her and what that might tell them. A pharmaceutical company may shove a tube up her nose, pump chemicals into her stomach every day for eight weeks and then kill and dissect her. If they do, the monkey is "valuable" in the eyes of the company and the law.

If the monkey's sinus is ruptured by misapplication of the tube and the monkey is left to suffer, untreated for days, until a lab technician gets authorization to destroy her, the monkey has no value. An undercover investigator on my staff documented this last year at a large
pharmaceutical testing laboratory, yet People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cannot legally sue on behalf of this monkey, who was a living, breathing, feeling, thinking being who never knew a moment's joy in life, and died in great pain.

Surely a country as progressive as America can extend respect and some legal rights to animals. This concept is not about radical change. It's about basic human decency.