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Docking and the draft Animal Welfare Bill
The last chance to have your say

Thousands of dog owners and breeders are being urged to lobby Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw MP in a last ditch attempt to save docking.

Members of the Council of Docked Breeds have been sent postcards warning them that this is their last chance to convince the Government that the dog world wants to retain the freedom to choose whether or not to dock litters of the traditionally docked breeds. A ban on docking, as envisaged in the Government’s newly published Animal Welfare Bill, would take away that freedom forever, says the CDB.

The Bill contains a clause which makes it an offence for a person to mutilate an animal, to cause an animal to be mutilated or to permit the mutilation of an animal of which he is a keeper. ‘Mutilation’ is not defined within the Bill, and certain exemptions to the ban on mutilations will specifically be permitted. However, an annex to the Bill makes it quite clear that what the Government has in mind is a ban on the docking of dogs’ tails. CDB President, Peter Squires, condemned the emotive use of the term ‘mutilation’ as applied to docking.

"It is a common ploy by those who wish to destroy a freedom to firstly besmirch it by changing the currency of its name, in the same way that the opponents of foxhunting speak not of field sports, but of ‘bloodsports’", he commented.

"After hundreds of years of dog breeding by caring breeders who, like myself, are devoted to the dogs we have nurtured and developed, we who produce the customarily docked breeds are now vilified by the Government as ‘mutilators’."

If it becomes law, the new legislation seems guaranteed to divide the dog world, for whilst the routine docking of show and companion dogs will be prohibited, Ben Bradshaw has made it quite clear that he intends to allow a continuation of the docking of working dogs used in field sports and those used by the police, the armed services and HM Customs and Excise to search for drugs and explosives. Docking of sheep and piglets by farmers will also be allowed.

This approach has angered to CDB. In its response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, which will be scrutinising the proposed legislation prior to the Bill going before Parliament, it asks why, if the docking of farm animals and working dogs is acceptable, the docking of dogs used for other purposes is not.

"If docking does not compromise the welfare of working dogs, then we do not see that an identical procedure performed on a non-working dog, for example to prevent future hygiene problems, compromises the welfare of that dog either. Either docking compromises welfare or it does not: if the former then no exceptions should be made, and if the latter, then regulated docking should continue to be permitted," argues the CDB.

It comments that not only does docking not compromise a dog’s welfare, but it enhances a dog’s future welfare by preventing tail injury, damage or disease.

When the proposed Bill was opened to public consultation in 2002, tail docking was the single largest issue that was raised by respondents, with an overwhelming majority of owners, breeders and breed clubs opposing a ban. However, DEFRA officials apparently ignored those views when they drafted the legislation and so the CDB has now appealed to its members to write direct to Ben Bradshaw, making the case for docking and explaining how a ban would affect them.

The CDB has also urged its members to copy their letters to their own MPs and to make their views known to the Kennel Club. Peter Squires has pointed out that the CDB can only ever be a single-issue pressure group and that the unequivocal support of the KC is vital if a ban is to be averted.

"If Clarges Street had made it quite clear that it was in full support of our docked breeds as we know and love them, then the long war to defend docking might have taken a very different turn," commented Peter Squires. He warned that the KC would soon experience the consequences of a ban, as registrations of docked breeds plummeted and the most experienced and knowledgeable breeders decided to call a halt to producing the breeds they had worked for all their lives.

But although the Bill is drafted, it is still a long way from the Statute book, so there is still everything to play for, even though time is short. After scrutiny by the Select Committee, it will be up to the Government’s business managers to decide if the legislation will be timetabled into the next session of Parliament. So all eyes will be on the Queen’s Speech in November to establish whether or not a new Animal Welfare Bill will be introduced this autumn.