The German government plans to ban zoophilia -- sex with animals -- as part of an amendment to the country's animal protection law, but faces a backlash from the country's zoophile community, estimated to number over 100,000.
Zoophilia was legalized in Germany in 1969 and animal protection groups have been lobbying for a ban in a campaign that has been fuelled by heated debate in Internet forums in recent years.
Now the center-right government wants to outlaw using animals "for personal sexual activities or making them available to third parties for sexual activities and thereby forcing them to behave in ways that are inappropriate to their species," said Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the parliament's Agricultural Committee.
In the future, having sex with an animal could be punished with a fine of up to €25,000 ($32,400).
Zoophiles are up in arms. "We will take legal action against this," Michael Kiok, chairman of zoophile pressure group ZETA (Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information), told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don't force them to do anything."
He said sex with pets wasn't demeaning to the animals, and that they make it evident if they're not interested.
"People have tried to create the false impression that we hurt animals," said Kiok, who lives with an Alsatian called Cessie. He said he has had special feelings for animals ever since he was four or five and that the fascination took on erotic elements in his teens.
Still Legal in Denmark
Sex with animals has been banned in a number of European countries including France, Switzerland and even the liberal Netherlands. Sweden is preparing a ban too, said Kiok. "But it's still legal in Denmark."
In most cases, the sexual partners are likely to be dogs because they are such common pets now. In the days of old, it used to be cows, horses, sheeps, goats and pigs, said Kiok.
Sexual research in the 1940s suggested that 5 to 8 percent of men and 3 to 5 percent of women engaged in zoophilia. "That would put the figure in Germany at 1.6 million but that's definitely too high. Taking a wild guess, I'd say it's well over 100,000," said Kiok.
He criticized the planned legal amendment because it still didn't ban the unanaesthetized castration of piglets in the meat processing industry, or the branding of horses. He also said the farming industry sexually abuses animals by allowing breeders to ram electric rods into the backsides of boars to make them ejaculate, and tying up mares so that they can be mounted by stallions.
Kiok knows what his first priority will be if the law is passed in parliament: "I'm going to make sure I keep my dog."