A VET was found guilty of disgraceful professional misconduct by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for docking a litter of puppies.
As reported previously, RCVS brought disciplinary action against John McKenna, who practises in London Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire for docking the tails of 11 Weimaraner puppies at the request of the owner, known only as Mrs M, in January 2005.
Mr McKenna is alleged to have taken the action despite having known or ought to have known there were no therapeutic or prophylactic' benefits for doing so, according to the RCVS professional code of conduct.
Mr McKenna faced the charges in front of the RCVS' disciplinary committee in London last week and, despite evidence provided by the puppies’ owner in his defence, was found guilty as charged. The Committee’s judgement reads as follows:
‘The Committee has found Mr McKenna guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect. Mr Corless drew the Committee’s attention to a bundle of references attesting to Mr McKenna’s good character and veterinary skills. It is clear that he is held in high regard by an impressive number of his clients.
‘We are also aware that these proceedings have caused Mr McKenna great distress, especially since on the 6 December 2006 a local newspaper article was severely critical of him.
‘It is the duty of this Committee to ensure the welfare of animals, protect the public and uphold the reputation of the profession, but our sentence should be proportionate.
‘While we find that Mr McKenna’s ignorance of the RCVS guidance on the docking of dogs’ tails falls so far short of acceptable and responsible practice that it amounts to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect, we consider that his conduct was more cavalier than calculated.
‘In our view his misdemeanours are at the lower end of the scale of disgraceful conduct as there is no evidence to show that he frequently and regularly docked puppies’ tails, nor that he had a reputation for so doing. There were in fact certain docked breeds e.g. Dobermanns and Rottweilers, which he would only dock for therapeutic reasons. This is a first offence and Mr McKenna has been entirely open with the Committee except perhaps in the matter of the use of the word ‘cosmetic’.
‘There is no suggestion that his surgical procedures were worthy of criticism and we have no reason to doubt his ability as a vet. Neither do we wish to make an example of him. We prefer then to take the lenient view and to instruct the Registrar to suspend Mr McKenna from the Register for a period of 28 days.
‘This should however be an indication to the profession that the RCVS is unequivocal in its opposition to docking and will act upon any evidence it receives of wrong doing and will enforce its guidance to the point of striking off, should a future respondent be guilty of seriously bending or breaking the rules.
Disciplinary Committee 14 December 2006’
It is not known at this stage whether Mr McKenna intends to appeal the decision.
The Council of Docked Breeds said that it deplored the decision by the RCVS to discipline Mr McKenna and branded the exercise a ‘witch hunt’.
The CDB pointed out that, in finding him guilty, the Disciplinary Committee say that there was 'no evidence to show that he frequently and regularly docked puppies’ tails, nor that he had a reputation for so doing. There were in fact certain docked breeds e.g. Dobermanns and Rottweilers, which he would only dock for therapeutic reasons.
One must ask the question why then, nearly two years after the event and a full five months before the Government's much-trumpeted Animal Welfare Act and its total ban on the docking of dogs' tails (with an exemption for working dogs, including Weimaraners), the RCVS seek to bring charges against one of its own members, especially one who seldom docked? In the CDB's view, the RCVS is 'flexing its muscles' in advance of the AWA becoming law and thus feeling confident to take only its second such prosecution of one of its members.
Ginette Elliott, Secretary of CDB comments: ‘It seems that the RCVS does not agree with the recent Government legislation and it shows that the RCVS is in danger of flouting the Animal Welfare Act for those who continue docking, even for working dogs. In this way, the documentation and looking over one's shoulder is going to be constant worry for vets until precedent is established by some unfortunate member being hauled up and pleading that what he has done is legal because he has followed all the correct procedures in the legislation and retained all the correct declarations and documentation. On this judgement, considering the reasons given, I think it would still be ruled as disgraceful conduct. In other words, the RCVS cannot lose.
‘Their actions towards Mr McKenna amount to a witch hunt. Who wants to appear on a charge when you are blindfolded, have your hands tied behind your back, the plank is already pointing over the side and the RCVS has already decided that, regardless of any law, the verdict will be to walk?
‘It seems that the Disciplinary Committee had a completely closed mind and that a guilty verdict was a pre-determined judgement not open to reasoning - Internationally this would be a clear case of an unfair trial and be taken up by Amnesty International or the Court of Human Rights!’