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Docking ban may now exclude working dogs

SOME BREEDS of working dogs will be exempt from any proposed ban on tail docking under animal welfare laws being drawn up by the Government. Ben Bradshaw, the new Animal Welfare Minister, confirmed in an interview earlier this week with The Times that he was moving away from a total ban on tail docking.

Mr Bradshaw said: "I am looking for a way to get the balance right. It seems odd to me that we allow human circumcision and, therefore, we should not be over-draconian in terms of animal welfare law. I want sensible, but useful and meaningful, reforms."

The Minister’s views appear to be far more relaxed than those of his predecessor in the post, Elliot Morley, now the Environment Minister, who had hoped to make it illegal to shorten dogs’ tails to a stump. Mr Morley was cited by many canine enthusiasts for his arrogant and high-handed attitude towards any dissenters to his plans and his apparent ignorance on issues such as docking.

Mr Bradshaw, however, accepts that for many working dogs there is a welfare aspect, not a simple cosmetic reason, for docking, i.e. in order top prevent tail injuries. He had considered a system where owners would have to prove that their dog was worked to be exempt from a ban, but now thought that would be too complicated. "It may be simpler, therefore, to exempt a number of breeds," he said.

The Minister intends to discuss the issue with field sports groups, the Kennel Club and animal welfare bodies before publishing a draft Bill in the spring. Although the Council of Docked Breeds is not one of the groups named for consultation, the CDB is anxious to enter into dialogue with Mr Bradshaw and for their views to be taken on board.

Mr Bradshaw’s stance may help to build bridges with countryside campaigners, who consider docking a practical animal management technique and a tradition of rural life.

According to The Times, the change of ministerial attitude appears to have come after a pre-Christmas lunch at the Kennel Club, when the Minister was urged to be flexible.

Caroline Kisko of the Kennel Club commented: "We are very pleased to hear that Mr Bradshaw is prepared to soften the government's stance on this issue. While we would prefer to see all decisions on docking left to the individual, a more realistic attitude to docking of working breeds is indeed welcome news."

Graham Downing of the Council of Docked Breeds gave a cautious welcome to Mr Bradshaw’s softened stance, but urged caution in any changes to the existing law.

"As far as exemptions for dogs involved in field sports go, there are problems inherent in excepting individual breeds," Mr Downing told OUR DOGS. "Field Sports organisations are looking at this issue very closely, alongside the CDB. The main problem is quite simply how does a vet – or anyone - identify puppies of a particular breed at 48 hours old when most docking takes place? This would be an extremely difficult task, even with the dam there."
Mr Downing also cites crossbreeds involved with field sports as also needing exemption.

"Cockers and springers are often crossed to produce ‘Sprokers’. So what happens to them and other crossbreeds? What happens to those working dogs that do not conform to any recognised KC breeds, such as Fell Terriers? Field Sports Organisations are determined that those dogs should be exempted. The fact is, there are a large proportion of working dogs that are not recognised as specific breeds. In short, the issue is more of ‘type’ than breed.

So any legislation would have to be carefully considered, because we all know what can happen with badly drafted breed-related legislation, and any such legislation must be very clearly defined between all parties. "

Mr Downing believes that a much better route for DEFRA to proceed down would be looking at future welfare interests of the dog. "In our view, a vet should be able to determine whether or not to dock on the basis of the future welfare of that dog and should have sufficient flexibility to allow him or her to make that professional judgement.

"The Council of Docked Breeds would welcome to opportunity to discuss the matter further with the Minister."

Any information please contact Margaret Greening on 01249 783522 or Mel Vincent on email or any local police station as the police have been informed.