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Law to help fishy, four-footed friends in Rome
By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
ROME — In the greater animal kingdom, the plight of the little goldfish is especially harsh. The tiny creatures are scooped into plastic bags and awarded at carnivals and fairs. They are confined to bowls where they can do nothing but swim around and around. Some (it has been claimed) go blind.
No more. The municipal government of Rome has entered waters where few city halls dare tread. Under a new law, the city's goldfish are entitled to a proper, full-sized aquarium, and they can no longer be given out as contest prizes.
The rules were drafted by the city of Rome's Office for Animal Rights. The 59-point statute ordering better treatment for all pets, from cats and dogs to birds and lizards, was approved by the City Council last month and will go into effect today.
The unusually strict measure is winning plaudits from animal-rights activists, snarls from pet-shop owners and puzzlement from all quarters about whether the law can actually be enforced. City officials, though, said it was time to take a stand.
"We needed to send a strong message: Pets are not objects," said Cristina Bedini, an 11-year veteran of the animal-rights office. "We are saying that owning a pet is a joy, but it is also a duty. Responsible ownership is the only way to fight cruelty."
The fish-bowl rule may earn for Rome a humanitarian award from the Fish Empathy Project of PETA, the international animal-rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"Rome has gone above and beyond anything we've seen anywhere else," spokeswoman Karin Robertson said.
For all animals, Rome's new law is more restrictive than anything in the United States, PETA said in a statement.
In addition to protection for fish, the law requires dog owners to walk their canines daily or face a $625 fine. It bans the display of pets-for-sale in store windows, and gives legal recognition to "gattare," the "cat ladies" who feed an army of strays.
Also banned: choke and electrical collars and, for dogs and cats, declawing and the clipping of tails and ears for cosmetic reasons.
Bedini and city officials met with police to discuss the law and how to see that it is obeyed, and a team of street cops will undergo specialized training to better understand the needs of animals. Even police officers, Bedini said, must better understand what constitutes mistreatment.
But Italy is a land of many laws and its own form of lawlessness.
"We have the most beautiful laws in the world, and nobody enforces them," said Silvia Viviani, a retired opera soprano who co-founded the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, a home for 250 strays ensconced in ancient ruins at the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated. It is one of an estimated 800 cat "colonies" in Rome that the new law will help by forbidding construction projects from displacing their feline residents.
Despite her reservations about enforcement, Viviani praised the new law. She only wished it went further, to include mandatory sterilization of cats and dogs — something, she says, that is still resisted in Italy because of "machismo."
Bedini said enforcement will rely more on education than police action. To catch fish-bowl violators, for example, "I don't think police will be going door to door."