Respecting animals, what does that mean in practice?

In various languages “to respect” is defined in different ways. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English it means:

  1. to admire someone because they have high standard and good personal qualities such as fairness and honesty.
  2. to be careful not to do anything against someone’s wishes.

According to the Dutch dictionary van Dale it means:

  1. to show respect (for) – to take someone seriously, to accept someone as he/she is
  2. to treat something/someone with respect – to defer to, to regard
  3. to observe regulations.

It sounds so easy: to accept someone as he/she is. In Dutch law this also applies to animals, because they are said to have an intrinsic value as well. But what does it mean: “respect the animal’s intrinsic value” and “how can we be sure of the wishes of an animal”?
Ask 100 people if they respect animals, and they will all say "yes". Ask those same people to give a definition of the word respect and they will not be capable of finding a more clear description of the word respect than those stated above. When you present 100 situations that differ in the way animals are used, than there will be little agreement on the question if humans show respect in their behaviour. For example: when we cut off chickens’ beaks to decrease the results of aggressive pecking behaviour in factory farms, does that indicate a lack of respect for the chicken? It has an harmful affect on the animal’s physical integrity, that’s for sure, but how serious is it?
In another factory farm case pigs’ tails are cut off in order to prevent them from biting each other’s tail off in a later stage. Does that mean there is a lack of respect for the young animal? The word respect can be easily pronounced, but to many people it is not a clear guideline to come to uniform decisions in the contact with animals.
That is the reason for the proposal to define “to respect” as: “to stand midway between being concerned and maintaining a minimal distance”.
Just like in the survey it is important to show interest in each other, without wanting to know the ins and outs of the person involved, indeed to be careful not to do anything against someone’s wishes.
Respect has everything to do with observing the limits of your own freedom and the freedom of others. Give others, animals included, enough space to be themselves. In the case of productive livestock: give animals an environment in which they can behave naturally. Allow animals to range freely in the meadows.

     
If we take a look at our system of justice, we do try to apply the right to freedom or liberty to ourselves.
In the most important and first 17 articles that the Dutch Constitution states, the classical basic rights, it has been tried to ensure this right to freedom and in an equal way for all people.

He who reads these articles and imagines that we would grant equal rights to animals, will discover that such a thing is quite possible. All it takes is that (within broader limits than is the case now) we set the animal free.

When the animal is not allowed to behave free and in its natural ways, in spite of properly being taken care of, this represents a form of animal abuse.
The fact that breeding-sows are being fixed to a short chain for many months, is a crying example of violation of their freedom to move. Article 15 of the Constitution states that "with the exception of cases determined by or under the law, it is forbidden to take anyones freedom." What crime did the porker commit that it has to live out its life with far too many animals in a small, unhealthy accomodation? As is the case with humans, this leads to weariness and agression.

  An other example: in article 11 of the Dutch Constitution the right to physical integrity is described. Pulling teeth or neutering piglets (without anaesthesia!), could very well be called a mutilation of this freedom.

The separation of the cow and its calf immediately after the birth, is a way of treating them as objects. The function of the calf is to stimulate the production of milk of its mother. Having done so, the calf is being made ready for slaughtering as soon as possible.

Just as is the case with humans, animal rights ought to be guaranteed by means of the same two concepts: freedom and equality (for all animals).

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