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Government goes for docking ban
by Nick Mays

ONCE AGAIN, the Government is coming into conflict with canine enthusiasts by announcing its intention to ban the docking of dogs’ tails. Environment Minister Elliot Morley disclosed the Government’s intentions in a Commons written answer on the subject. Any such legislation is bound to cause even more rancour amongst the rural community – already reeling from the Government’s plans to hunting with hounds - who view the docking of working dogs’ tails as a perfectly responsible ‘practical animal management technique’.

The last time the law on docking was amended in any way was back in 1993 when the last Conservative Government failed to introduce an outright ban, but tinkered with legislation to prohibit lay persons from docking dogs’ tails and only allowing the procedure to be carried out by a vet. Even then, the procedure is only supposed to be carried out for "therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons".

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons attempted to prevent their members from carrying out the procedure, but famously failed to secure a prosecution against one vet in 1995.

Having suffered a humiliating defeat in this way, the RCVS pointedly ignored the matter, until they attempted, in 2000, to pressure the Government into adopting the European Convention for Pet Animals, which included a built-in docking ban. Again, however, this attempt was defeated convincingly.

Consulting

The latest attempt to ban docking looks to be the most convincing so far. Mr Morley’s own Department for Environment and Rural Affairs has begun consulting on its flagship Animal Welfare Bill and is expected to publish a draft version of the Bill before the end of the current Parliamentary session. Given Labour’s huge majority – and inherent lack of understanding of complex issues relating to animals – the Bill could well be on the statute books by the end of 2003. The draft proposals for the Bill include an outright ban on tail docking and this was confirmed by Mr Morley in a written answer to a question raised by an MP. However, Mr Morley did temper his answer by saying that the Government was "still canvassing opinions on the subject before taking a final decision."

After this, the docking issue has dominated the headlines again, with large articles in The Times and the Daily Mail, and a series of TV and radio discussions on the subject.

Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine and long time opponent of docking, told The Times: "Dogs are not born like that. Docking is barbaric. It is the equivalent of China binding women’s feet. There is no reasonable purpose for chopping bits of Terriers’ and Boxers’ anatomy off other than fashion. The tail has far more purpose than it is given credit for."

Schnauzer breeder Gillian Ogburn, winner of Best of Breed for four years running at Crufts was also quoted in the Times article, putting the breeder’s view.

"This is just a case of the so-called government do-gooders sticking their noses in," she said. "They should leave dogs alone. I have always docked my dogs, it is painless for them."

The Council for Docked Breeds responded to the challeng, fielding several speakers for the radio and TV discussions on docking, whilst sending detailed press statements to the print media.

However, as with any contentious issue involving animal welfare and ‘perceived cruelty’, the matter of tail docking invokes outrage from members of the public who are not aware of the complex issues involved, such as tail injuries caused to traditionally docked dogs which are left undocked. This was the case in Sweden after a docking ban was imposed in 1989 when tail injuries to traditionally docked dogs increased markedly.