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Animal Welfare Bill – by docking divided

A WAR of words has broken out between the Council of Docked Breeds and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation - the UK’s two main pro-docking organisations - in the wake of the MPs’ vote during the Third Reading of the Animal Welfare Bill to ban docking for all but working dogs.

The new regulations, if approved by the House of Lords, will apply to England and Wales, whilst the matter of docking in Scotland will soon be decided by the Scottish Parliament under its own Animal Health and Welfare Bill.

In what was hailed as "a victory for animal welfare", working dogs can continue to have their tails docked to prevent injury. It was the culmination of a six-week period of intense lobbying by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) to make the case for the exemption.
BASC Director of Communications, Christopher Graffius said "The vote was won by a coalition of MPs from all parties who saw the sense of exempting working dogs from a ban. It demonstrates the effectiveness of BASC’s strategy of working with all political parties to seek a dialogue and support for shooting. I am delighted by this result, which is a victory for common sense and the welfare of working dogs.

"We worked closely with DEFRA to frame an exemption which would be acceptable to MPs. We have lobbied MPs, opposition parties, Government whips, ministers and Number 10 to seek maximum backing in the vote. The BASC campaign was supported by other organisations such as the Countryside Alliance, The Council for Docked Breeds and the Country Land and Business Association who ran their own lobbies, often with limited resources, and have all helped to persuade MPs to support an exemption for working dogs."

However, the vote was derided by the Council of Docked Breeds (CDB), who not only saw the working dog exemption as a fudge, but also felt badly let down by the BASC, whilst more recently criticising the Kennel Club for it’s ‘limp’ response to the decision.

CDB Chairman Peter Squires commented: "The Council of Docked Breeds is the only organisation which has been campaigning continually for the retention of the tail docking option, for over 15 years. Other organisations have chosen not to get involved in the subject until recently, instead preferring to pass all enquiries from their members onto the CDB to assist.

"Lest you may forget, in order to bring veterinary surgeons on board, the CDB has offered them, not only complete confidentiality, but support and advice throughout the past fifteen years. This support includes monetary and legal assistance, when the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has taken docking vets to Disciplinary Hearings, accusing them of disgraceful professional conduct, simply for legally docking tails."

Over the past fifteen years, since the docking laws were last amended, the CDB has treated all members and docked dog owners equally, putting them in touch with their nearest docking vet,
including show breeders, companion breeders, field working breeders, and providing a backup service.

Mr Squires added: "Unfortunately, the very organisations willing to pass the above potential members onto the CDB to save them having to get involved, never really bothered with political lobbying, until recently. Once the Animal Welfare Bill Consultations started, their true colours began to shine in so much as they only wanted to protect their own. Whilst the CDB continued to campaign on behalf of ALL docked breed owners, others selfishly only attempted to protect their own interests and were prepared to sacrifice all others."

Thousands of BASC and CDB members wrote to and emailed their MPs and sent in lobby cards provided by BASC. But although the CDB were not invited to Parliament, a number of BASC members and their Gundogs went to the Houses of Parliament in February as part of a BASC organised event to meet MPs in person and to show that docking a working dog can benefit the animal.

According to the BASC, their representatives spent weeks meeting MPs, and, at BASC’s request supportive MPs from all parties wrote to their colleagues asking them to back the amendment. The organisation wrote two separate briefing letters in the run up to the debate. In the final hours before the vote BASC emailed MPs to counter misinformation being spread by campaigners for a complete ban and to pass on details of support from the Association of Chief Police Officers for an exemption for dogs used in law enforcement – a move which many observers saw as crucial in getting the exemption clause through by a narrow margin of 11 votes.

In the wake of the vote, Mr Squires went on to say where the CDB felt the problem lay, in other organisations failing to fight the docking corner fully and for only seeking dispensation for working dogs. He continued:

‘The Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and possibly even our own Kennel Club, started cosying up with DEFRA and other Government officials, suggesting "compromises" which would simply save tail docking for certain working dogs, to the total exclusion of all others. They even agreed to a complete ban on the showing of ANY docked dog, even if under the proposed legislation, it had been docked legally.’

Now that the Animal Welfare Bill has passed to the House of Lords for scrutiny, the CDB has prepared an in-depth briefing for Peers, which it has posted to each member of the Upper House individually. To this end, the CDB has not published this briefing, as it wishes to "keep its powder dry" from those who do not support the status quo. Feedback from Peers to date has given the CDB a quiet confidence that at least the subject will be well debated in the Lords. The CDB remains upbeat despite recent events and it is this enthusiasm and positive thinking that has kept it motivated for its entire existence.

However, the issue has now caused deep divisions, and any hope of reconciliation between the CDB and the BASC looks remote at best. The CDB has been accused of instructing its members not to assist the BASC in compiling its own list of vets who are prepared to dock dogs that will be used for working.

Simon Clarke, a spokesman for the BASC hit back at this point, saying:

‘I am disturbed that the CDB has instructed people not to co-operate with the BASC’s efforts to compile a list of vets willing to dock.

‘Information from the list will be made available to our members (so that their dogs can be docked legally). If the CDB has the welfare of working dogs at heart, I would hope they would be more co-operative.’

Mr Clarke went on to say that the BASC had adopted a "realistic approach" in the run-up to the AWB’s Third Reading:

‘It was clear to us that MPs were going to vote for a ban,’ said Mr Clarke. ‘There was a great deal of lobbying from groups such as the RCVS and RSPCA who wanted a total docking ban. There was no way the status quo would be maintained, so the BASC had to adopt a realistic approach and ensure that there was an exemption for working dogs, otherwise the situation would have been far worse.’

One of the other points of concern facing the owners of legitimately docked working dogs is that the law, as drafted, does not allow docked dogs to compete in shows, which could see the end of the popular Gamekeepers’ Classes at Crufts and could also prevent ‘dual purpose’ docked dogs from competing at shows. However, Mr Clarke felt that this was not an insurmountable problem.
‘I think it would be a relatively simple matter to amend the showing rules slightly so that docked dogs could still compete, say in the Crufts Gamekeepers’ Classes, but so that they would be ‘on exhibition’ and to demonstrate their working abilities’, said Mr Clarke. ‘There’s scope within the Bill’s wording to allow this, so I’m sure we won’t have seen the end of the Gamekeeper’s classes and similar events.’

Meanwhile, back with the CDB, the ban on docked dogs being shown is just one of the many points vexing the CDB, particularly with regard to the lack of support from other organisations. Peter Squires continues: "The taildocking portion of the Animal Welfare Bill as it currently stands is completely unworkable, as it does not carry the backing of the vets who would be asked to sign docking certification in future, which in turn, the RCVS could use to persecute them. The fact that organisations suggesting this legislation did not seek to establish the opinions of docking vets, shows their aloofness and complete misreading of the current situation. They could have asked the CDB of course, but they choose not to.

‘More worrying is that all three organisations, unscrupulously and unashamedly, used data, information and research built up by the CDB over fifteen years and bent it to promote their own singular cause. Plagiarism at its worst you may agree?

‘Looking forward, the CDB is now encouraging its members to contact as many of the Peers in the Lords as possible, to promote the status quo. Members are given all the help and assistance they require on the CDB web site and through regular email updates.’

The outcome of the amendment banning cosmetic docking during the Bill’s Second Reading in the Lords just after Easter will undoubtedly be closely watched by all those concerned – anti-dockers and pro-dockers, who will always be divided by their beliefs about the cruelty or non-cruelty of tail docking.

However, the divide is now even finer, with pro-dockers opposing each other with no obvious sign of reconciliation. It seems that, thanks to an act of compromise, the CDB now stands apart from the BASC, CA and KC.

They all stand by docking divided.