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The Kennel Club responds to the EFRA Committee report
on the DAWB Draft Animal Welfare Bill
‘Not so much 101 Dalmatians, more 101 recommendations!’

One of the major issues for the Kennel Club over the last few years has been the Government’s plans to consolidate existing animal welfare legislation into a single Animal Welfare Bill. The proposed Bill will introduce a duty of care on owners of pet animals as well as modernise the laws surrounding welfare and for this initiative, the Government is to be applauded.

However, the Government’s draft Animal Welfare Bill raises many important and often complex issues which must be resolved before a final Bill is introduced to Parliament, according to the report released on the 8th December by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee and this Committee has made 101 recommendations for changes to the draft Bill.

The publication of this report follows a great deal of written and oral evidence gathered by both Defra civil servants and the Efra Committee. The Kennel Club was pleased to have the opportunity to play a significant role in this process.

July 2004 saw the publication of the draft Animal Welfare Bill and shortly afterwards the Kennel Club was invited to Defra as part of the consultation process to discuss issues included in the Bill.

KC representatives met Defra on numerous occasions, prior to the publication of the Bill, as part of the docking and breeding and boarding workstreams, to discuss these matters in more depth with the civil servants responsible for drafting the Bill. Following the publication of the Bill, the Kennel Club submitted its comments on the clauses and the proposed secondary legislation contained therein.

Support

On the basis of the KC’s written submission – which covered issues such as docking, electronic shock collars, dog fighting, cruelty, welfare and the sale of dogs to persons under 16 - the Efra Committee invited representatives of the Kennel Club to give evidence to its members in early September when representatives were questioned on docking and electronic shock collars. KC evidence majored on the docking issue, making it clear to the Committee that it continues strongly to support the case for choice in docking no matter what the breed - it is up to the individual whether or not they have the tails of pups docked, as indicated by the current Kennel Club Breed Standards. It was also made very clear that the Kennel Club believes that docking should remain legal.

On this issue, and having received evidence from a wide spectrum of organisations, the Efra Committee stated that, in its opinion, tail docking in dogs should be banned for cosmetic reasons but permitted for therapeutic reasons. An exemption for prophylactic docking would also be acceptable provided that certain requirements were met, including veterinarians maintaining records demonstrating why the dog was docked – for instance the owner of a working gundog would need to provide something such as a firearms licence, somehow indicating that the dog was to be worked in the future. Veterinarians would be required to provide the owner with a certificate endorsing the tail docking, giving details of the veterinarian carrying out the procedure. The Efra Committee have also stated that all puppies docked should be microchipped.

Kennel Club evidence also highlighted its anti electronic shock collar campaign and the belief that these products are cruel as they train the dog out of fear rather than a natural willingness to obey. The Kennel Club requested that electronic shock collars be banned and urged the Committee members to recommend this course of action in their final report.

The Efra Committee stated that they were surprised that Defra had not yet undertaken sufficient research into these devices, particularly given the controversy surrounding their use and the claim that they have been in use in the UK for 13 years. The Committee concluded that Defra should undertake consultation and research into these devices as soon as possible.

Said Caroline Kisko, Secretary of the Kennel Club, "We are of course very disappointed with Efra’s findings regarding docking, but knew that we were facing an uphill struggle. When we attended the Defra meetings to discuss docking as part of the drafting of the Bill, many of the other organisations in attendance were ‘anti-docking’, which of course made our job all the harder. In conjunction with the Council of Docked Breeds, to have moved the position of Defra and in turn Efra from the intention of a total ban on docking, to consideration of allowing gundogs to continue the practice, is undoubtedly a step forward from the original position of a total ban, but clearly we cannot accord with this position. Efra’s suggestion that docked dogs should be microchipped also requires clarification, as clearly no vet would consider microchipping a dog at three days of age!"

Caroline continued, "In our opinion there is no conclusive scientific evidence that docking causes cruelty and pain. In addition, the regulations being suggested will cause huge confusion, will be impossible to police, are not demanded by popular public view and constitute yet another ‘nanny state’ interference with centuries’ old harmless conventions. We will be consulting with the CDB to agree a way forward for continuing to put the case for the retention of docking for all customarily docked breeds."

Assurance

Caroline concluded, "On a more satisfactory note, we are encouraged by Committee’s response regarding shock collars and are very pleased that they are now encouraging Defra to undertake independent research about these devices as soon as possible. The KC met Defra about six months ago and we were given the assurance that this issue was to be investigated.

We now hope that they will take the advice of Committee and instigate the necessary work as soon as possible. The sooner these draconian devices are banned, the better."

The next stage in the political process regarding the Animal Welfare Bill is that the Government will produce its Bill, having taken the comments from the Efra Committee into account. The Government is not obliged to change the Bill in the way the Committee suggests, so the KC will continue to monitor the situation to see what develops. The Bill will then have its formal first reading followed by a second reading debate in either the Lords or the Commons.

During this period, the Kennel Club will be drafting a response to the Committee’s report and sending it to Defra, outlining its areas of contention. It will also be seeking a meeting with the relevant civil servants to discuss the contents of the response. At the same time a briefing document will be distributed to all politicians, responding to the Efra report and urging them to make further representations to the Minister.