Not Just for Christmas: Swiss Urged to Stop Eating Cats and Dogs

Saint Bernard dogs Katy and Salsa (R) sit on the snow after their arrival at the Great Saint Bernard mountain pass at an altitude of 2,473 metres (8,114 ft.) in the southwestern Swiss Alps June 4, 2009. Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of people in Switzerland eat cat and dog meat, particularly at Christmas, according to a Swiss animal rights group seeking to ban the practice.

SOS Chats Noiragigue is behind a campaign to ban the consumption of cats and dogs, more commonly associated with countries such as China and Vietnam, in the small European country. A petition to parliament has gathered almost 18,000 signatures so far, including actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot.

Founder and president of the group Tomi Tomek told the BBC that 3% of Swiss people eat cat or dog meat, 80% of them being farmers. The Lucerne, Appenzell, Jura and Bern areas are the main culprits.

"One woman gave me a recipe for cooking newborn cat," Tomek said. "I went to the police, a veterinarian and the government and they all told me that there was no law against it." She was told to write a petition and try to get a politician to support her. She's now rallied five to her cause.

Cat meat even features prominently on Christmas menus in some parts of Switzerland, Tomek said, while dog meat is also used to make sausages. "It is an old tradition in Switzerland to eat dog meat like sausages and use dog fat for rheumatism," she said. "They eat cats because they taste like rabbits." They are apparently prepared in the same way and best served with white wine and garlic.

"Farmers will eat their cats and dogs when they have too many, says Tomek. "I told them to sterilize the animals but they said it was too costly and it made a good meal."

The law on trading cat fur was changed after a successful campaign by Tomek last year. The sale of dog meat is also illegal, but not its consumption.

In Switzerland, a proposal needs 100,000 signatures out of a total population of around 8 million for a national referendum to be held on the issue. This year, a proposal to secure the world's highest minimum wage of 22 Francs (£15) per hour garnered enough signatures and be voted on nationally only to be defeated at the ballot box. Another motion, to limit immigration, also secured a referendum with a public vote to be held on November 30.

Swiss animal rights lawyer Antoine Goetschel sees the petition to ban cat and dog meat as more symbolic than serious. "It forces the public and Swiss politicians to take these issues into account," Goetschel told Newsweek. Goetschel believes that "companion animals are entitled to more rights than other animals" in society. A petition like this will allow us to ask questions about the rights of all animals, Goetschel says.