Ever wonder what it might look like if animals had legal standing to sue people, as White House “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein has proposed? It could look something like Switzerland, where Ingrid Newkirk’s belief that “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” could soon be engraved into law. Swiss citizens will vote on Sunday on a national referendum to give animals the “right” to have an attorney act on their behalf in the same way the courts presently treat human children.

Currently, this “right” is limited to Zurich. Today, the British newspaper The Guardian interviews Antoine Goetschel, Zurich’s “animal counsel,” who describes the variety of offenses he can litigate on behalf of animals. For example, last year Goetschel represented a dead pike against a fisherman. The “crime”? The fisherman took too long—ten minutes—hauling in his catch. (A judge recently acquitted him.) And if you think that’s extreme, Switzerland has a whole kennel of regulations for pet owners, as The Guardian details:

In late 2008, a new animal act passed into law in Switzerland. It runs to 150 pages and explains in great detail how dozens of species are to be kept and treated by their owners, be they "companion animals" or livestock on a farm. In November, the law will finally become legally enforceable meaning the owner of, say, a rabbit could be prosecuted for keeping their pet in a hutch that doesn't meet the legal criteria.

A dwarf rabbit, for example, must be kept in a hutch no smaller than 50cm x 70cm, with 40cm headroom. They must also have a nest box, or the "ability to dig" …The new rules for dogs are even more exacting.

Once a government creates such specific rules for pet owners (or livestock farmers), it’s easy for animal rights “investigators” to unleash the lawyers on minor violators. In fact, such regulations read like something from a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) ballot initiative. Goetschel estimates that Switzerland will need between six and 15 lawyers to prosecute animal cases.

Imagine that kind of industry here in the US. HSUS already has 30 attorneys on staff (a fact well-known to readers of our new HumaneWatch blog), any of whom would probably be happy to sue other humans pro bono. With a $100 million organization backing them, they could effectively cripple small farms with a constant barrage of lawsuits. And that’s not counting other animal rights organizations like PETA and the phony-bologna “Physicians Committee” for Responsible Medicine.

Who knows? Maybe dogs “marking their territory” will provide Swiss lawyers with a replacement for ambulance-chasing. But hopefully America’s legal system will protect pet owners and farmers by keeping a muzzle on animal rights lawyers.