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Focus on the Animal Welfare Bill - Part 3: in the dock
By Nick Mays, Chief Reporter, OUR DOGS

"Sincere views were held by those who both support and oppose a ban on cosmetic docking and our preference is that there should continue to be freedom of choice."

Paragraph 15, Regulatory Impact Assessment on the Animal Welfare Bill

ONE OF the most emotive subjects contained in the Animal Welfare Bill - and one that affects many dog enthusiasts – is that of tail docking.

Since the law was amended in the early 1990s to prohibit the docking of dogs’ tails by lay persons but to allow docking to be carried out by practicing veterinary surgeons, animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA against the procedure have waged a constant battle. To counter this wave of anti-docking hype, the Council of Docked Breeds was established to both protect the interests of docked breeds and the owners of docked breeds, but also to explain the truth of tail docking, tackling the emotive phrases being bandied about, such as "cruel mutilation"

Crucially, with the publication of the Animal Welfare Bill in October, the Government has decided not to push for a ban on tail docking in dogs, since it says sincere views are held by both those in favour and those against. This is an issue it has decided to let Parliament rule on. Opponents of a ban believe, however, that with a Labour majority that ritually sides with animal welfare groups the practice is likely to be banned, if not by an amendment to the Bill itself, then by secondary legislation.

This is in stark contrast to the Scottish Assembly’s own Animal Welfare Bill which sets out a ban on tail docking as one of its main aims.

The relevant clause of the AWB states:

Mutilation (1) A person commits an offence if— (a) he carries out a prohibited procedure on a protected animal; (b) he causes such a procedure to be carried out on such an animal.

(2) A person commits an offence if— (a) he is responsible for an animal, (b) another person carries out a prohibited procedure on the animal, and (c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening.

(3) References in this section to the carrying out of a prohibited procedure on an animal are to the carrying out of a procedure which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment.

(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply in such circumstances as the appropriate national authority may specify by regulations.

(5) Before making regulations under subsection (4), the appropriate national authority shall consult such persons appearing to the authority to represent any interests concerned as the authority considers appropriate.

So is the Government secretly for a ban on tail docking? Or does it really prefer the status quo to be maintained? OUR DOGS sought the views of parties on all sides of the great docking divide….

The Kennel Club The docking of dogs’ tails is an operation that currently may only legally be performed by a veterinary surgeon. The Kennel Club agrees that the decision concerning docking should remain one that rests with breeders and their veterinary advisers, with the proviso that only dogs which have had their tails docked at the age which the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons considers to be acceptable may be entered at Kennel Club licensed events, unless the owner obtains permission from the Kennel Club following the shortening of a tail at a later age due, for instance, to damage.

"The Kennel Club is disappointed that Government’s call for a ban on docking as part of the proposed Animal Welfare Bill with certain, limited, exemptions effectively dismisses the scientific evidence presented by researchers from across the globe that tail docking does not cause pain. For example:

l Professor Rudolf Fritsch, Head, Clinic of Veterinary Surgery, Justus-Liebig University, (Germany) distinguishes between groups of newborn animals, including dogs, and confirms that they are relatively immature at birth & up to around two weeks of age and therefore cannot feel the same degree of pain as human babies, lambs and calves.

l Professor J R S Hales Biomedical Research Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney; Chief Research Scientist, Division of Animal Physiology/Production, has observed that in neonatal puppies, the characteristic hind-paw scratching in response to tickling mid-side skin, is initially absent, faintly present in most pups at day 8 and that puppies do not exhibit adult-like characteristics until at least day 14.

The Kennel Club allows customarily docked breeds to be shown with or without their tails being docked and the Breed Standards issued by the Kennel Club indicate this. All breed standards now contain a clause to describe the appearance of the docked and the undocked tail in order to enable a judge to assess the tail of an undocked dog of a customarily docked breed.

The Kennel Club regrets the Government’s proposals to ban docking under the proposed Animal Welfare Bill and will continue to lobby for freedom of choice.

The Council of Docked Breeds: The CDB’s Press Officer Graham Dowling outlined the CDB’s position Statement on both the Animal Welfare Bill and Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill:
From the moment that the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments announced their intention to publish new legislation on animal welfare, the Council of Docked Breeds regarded the matter with the utmost seriousness and raised political campaigning to the top of its agenda.

Docking is a long-established procedure which, when undertaken in accordance with present UK law, causes no pain or discomfort. Despite years of opposition to docking by the RSPCA, the veterinary establishment and others, there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to suggest that docking has any adverse impact upon animal welfare.

On the contrary, generations of breeders, owners and handlers who have worked closely with the docked breeds, and whose love for their dogs is without question, testify to the benefits and legitimacy of docking in preventing future tail injury, maintaining hygiene in long coated breeds and maintaining long-established breed standards.

The CDB took the view that the case for docking had not been effectively put, or was misunderstood, by politicians at both Westminster and Holyrood, and it set about rectifying this. Both Defra and Seerad conducted pre-legislative consultations to which CDB members and breed societies responded in large numbers.

It became clear that of all the issues which might potentially be affected by legislation, tail docking was the most controversial. Indeed, in Defra’s 2002 consultation, a suggested ban on docking was opposed by all 113 breed clubs which responded, representing 12,744 individuals. Of the 1,590 members of the public who responded on docking, 80% opposed a ban, as did more than half of the 33 vets.

Despite this, in its Draft Animal Welfare Bill published in July 2004, the Government said at Annex G "It is proposed to ban or restrict the docking of dogs’ tails for prophylactic purposes."

The CDB increased its lobbying effort. It had a personal meeting with Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw MP, it gave both written and oral evidence to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRACOM) in its examination of the Draft Bill, and it supported other organisations, such as the Kennel Club and the shooting associations with interests in working gundogs, which were also opposed to a ban on docking.

In November 2004 it was announced in the Queens Speech that an animal welfare Bill would be placed on the Westminster legislative programme for the forthcoming schedule. However, these plans were shelved when the General Election intervened, and the Bill was not introduced until October 2005.

The Animal Welfare Bill is, as expected, enabling legislation which creates a framework for statutory change by way of secondary Orders. As such, it merely envisages a ban on ‘mutilations’ whilst allowing for Ministers to make exemptions to any such ban. Docking is not mentioned either in the Bill, or in the explanatory notes which accompany it. Significantly, though, paragraph 15 of the Regulatory Impact Assessment states: "Sincere views were held by those who both support and oppose a ban on cosmetic docking and our preference is that there should continue to be freedom of choice."

The CDB welcomed that statement. It represents an acknowledgement by the Government that they have accepted the strength of our arguments, and a recognition that the anti-docking case is by no means as convincing as its proponents assumed it to be. Ministers have indicated that the matter of docking is an issue for Parliament to properly decide, and the possibility is that there will be at some time in the near future, a debate and a vote on the matter.

While the Government’s acceptance of ‘freedom of choice’ is to be applauded, the CDB is well aware that the case for docking has by no means been won at Westminster. There is a long battle still ahead, at the heart of which is the opinions of individual MPs. The CDB is thus appealing to all of its members and supporters, and to all docked breed societies, to contact or, better still, visit their MPs to canvass their support for the ‘freedom of choice’ position in any future vote.

The situation in Scotland is less satisfactory. While Holyrood’s Animal Health & Welfare Bill is similar in nature to the Animal Welfare Bill, so far as ‘mutilations’ are concerned, the Scottish Executive has indicated that it envisages a general ban on docking with exemptions for "working (gun and sniffer) dogs." Not only would such exemptions be extraordinarily difficult to frame and police, but in the face of the real possibility of freedom of choice south of the border, they would create a different legislative framework in England on the one hand and Scotland on the other. It might be noted that, as secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Bill is a matter for the devolved administrations, the Welsh Assembly may well take its own view on the matter too.

The CDB has already visited Scottish civil servants to discuss docking, and it has been invited to give evidence to the Scottish Executive. It will continue to support both its own members, the Scottish breed clubs, the Scottish Kennel Club and others in opposing any ban in Scotland, and will work towards freedom of choice in docking throughout the United Kingdom.

The Anti-Docking Alliance: Pauline Baines, Director of the Anti-Docking Alliance has strong words on the subject, many of which will nit sit comfortably with dog breeders and enthusiasts:

Why is it that UK dog breeders and the Kennel Club are still so resistant to a ban on tail docking? I have just returned from Denmark where it is commonplace to see undocked dogs walking the streets and undocked Spaniels in service as sniffer dogs at the Airport. They are in line with many other countries now.

We cannot get away from the fact that most docking in the UK is being done purely for cosmetic reasons or on the pretext of possible future injury. As most dogs in the docked breeds in the UK are still being docked there is no evidence that can bear out the validity of a "future injury" argument; even so the proponents of docking imply that all dogs should be docked on the mere possibility. As greyhounds statistically injure one of their legs in their racing life, the same argument could be made for amputating the probably offending leg at birth!

No-one seems willing to list the reasons for docking each and everyone of the breeds that are being docked and this includes the Vets who are doing the docking; neither does anyone seem willing to be photographed docking tails (video purporting to show the docking procedure by putting on a band is the innocent stage only and is merely camouflage for what is to follow). For those in doubt visit our web page for other people's views.

Not only are many of our breeds being turned into unhealthy animals but in addition there are those breeds that have to suffer possible death as a result of being docked; both being done purely for aesthetics.

No one should believe the misleading notion that there is no pain involved with docking. The evidence is more convincing as every day passes from scientific sources. The pain suffered by banding/cutting a tail off a dog cannot be measured as it would be considered unethical research to dock a dogs' tail to quantify the level of pain. To those arguing opposing views on this it must be said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. A Vet's purpose is not to inflict suffering or harm to an animal so why are some willing to do it, other than for financial gain?

One simply cannot say "we have always docked" and therefore it is our right to do so. The choice has lain with the breeder, not with the owner of the tail (the dog) nor a purchaser. If this happened to a child it would be termed "abuse". We all know many exhibitors who will not take the chance in the ring with an undocked dog (unless they have imported one) as judging, especially by breed judges, still shows bias. The present day cost of exhibiting does not encourage those brave enough to take the risk.

The Anti-Docking Alliance cannot see how any politician voting on docking could vote any other way than to ban docking (except for therapeutic reasons) if they have the true welfare of animals in mind. We long ago put forward the suggestion that a 5 year moratorium could be in place during which time Vets could record all injuries to dogs so that clear statistics of injury types can be shown and exemptions made (with anæsthesia) if a case were truly proved for docking a certain breed.

As recently reported, RSPCA Director Tim Miles wrote to all UK vets asking them to support the RSPCA’s call on MPs to vote for an amendment to the AWB calling for a total ban on tail docking. Although many vets choose to take the line of least resistance and opt not to dock dogs’ tails, there are still a significant number that will do so.

One vet, who asked not to be named commented: "There are arguments for and against tail docking, and I am aware that if docking were banned it is possible we would see a number of deformed tails due to hereditary defects in customarily docked breeds, we may also see a number of tail injuries.

"But there is such a thing as freedom of choice and this applies to professional practitioners as much as it does to dog owners who choose to have their dogs’ tails dogs and equally to those who prefer not to have their dogs’ tails docked. This is one area where the status quo should be maintained – I can foresee far more animal health problems being caused in the name of animal welfare in this case than may be prevented by it."