Thanks to Astrid’s Law, dogs’ tails in Sweden are safe from cosmetic trimming and barnyard animals are guaranteed a better life, at least until they get to the slaughterhouse.
The law, which took effect last summer, was the result of a campaign by children’s author Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking and a host of other characters who have enchanted children in dozens of countries.
It was a remarkable achievement, even for a woman who once helped bring down a government. It reflected the reverence with which Swedes regard a storyteller who has spellbound three generations.
The law was Lindgren’s birthday present from the government. When she turned 80 last November, Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson visited her Stockholm apartment to tell her that the Animal Protection Law was being drafted and would be informally but affectionately called “Lex Astrid.”
“We are going to take much more consideration of the animals’ health and well-being,” he told her.
Lindgren, a farmer’s daughter, long had agitated against cruelty to animals, but the campaign gained momentum last year when she wrote in an open letter to Carlsson: “Every pig is entitled to a happy pig life.”
She complained that calves often were locked in barns and slaughtered “without ever seeing a summer pasture.” She asked Carlsson “to make life a little bit easier for many unhappy animals in our country.”
The wide-ranging law guarantees cattle the right to graze, and cows and pigs the right to stalls with straw and bedding. It says chickens should be freed from their coops within 10 years, and animals should be protected from undue suffering before slaughter.
It also outlaws the drugging of horses in racing and riding competition and says animals may not be beaten repeatedly with a stick or whip beyond “a light strike.” Riding schools and fur farms must be licensed.
It made Sweden the second country after Norway to ban the cropping of dogs’ tails for cosmetic reasons.
It was not the first time Lindgren has shaken up politicians.
In 1976, she wrote a satirical fairy tale dramatizing her complaint against the system of taxation that finances the generous social benefits of the Swedish welfare state.
Lindgren calculated that she paid more than 100% in taxes on her income, because of a quirky combination of local tax, income tax and social tax for the self-employed.
Her indignation at having to pay to write profitable books contributed to a growing fatigue among the voters with the Social Democratic Party, which had governed Sweden for 44 unbroken years.
Right-wing opposition parties had decried the tax system as unfair for years, but Lindgren’s lament had a far wider impact in the 1976 election. The Social Democrats were ousted, returning to power in 1982.
Lindgren has political punch because she is a nonpolitical national symbol whose books are universally embraced. They are as much a part of growing up in Sweden as dancing around the Maypole in summer and eating herring at Christmas.
Many of her 70 books have been translated into 60 languages and have been the source of 29 films or television series. She has won 35 Swedish or international awards since publishing her first book in 1944.
Her stories were often set in rural Sweden, where children romped through green forests in summer, skated on frozen lakes in winter and went fishing in the autumn.
Her most popular character is Pippi Longstocking, a rebellious girl with red pigtails, a chest full of money and incredible strength.