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Docking ban gets go ahead for Scottish AWB

THE SCOTTISH Animal Health and Welfare Bill currently being considered in the Scottish Assembly will contain a provision to ban all tail docking in Scotland, legislation which may effect MPs’ eventual position on tail docking in England and Wales under the Labour Government’s Animal Welfare Bill.

The Scottish AHWB is currently being considered by the Environment and Rural Development Committee before being returned to the Assembly for MSPs to vote on. Last week the Committee considered the issue of ‘mutilations’ and ‘harm’ to animals – and tail docking was given significant attention.

The Committee’s report details the tail docking issue as follows: "The issue which generated the most comment in evidence is the Executive’s intention to exempt tail-docking of dogs only where they are intended to be working dogs or in the case of therapeutic treatment. This aims to prohibit tail-docking for cosmetic or breed standard reasons.

"Whether docking of dogs’ tails should be permitted at all except for emergency therapeutic reasons or, conversely, regulated at all, was hotly disputed. A significant volume of material was received on this point, including submissions from vets, dog owners and breeders, expressing equally strong views for and against tail-docking."

The Committee heard detailed evidence on the degree to which dogs experience pain at the time of, and beyond, the tail-docking operation. There was no clear consensus on this point. However, the BVA stated that, "We consider the scientific evidence that puppies perceive pain at the time of docking to be sound, and…the long-term inability to properly communicate with other dogs resulting from the loss of the tail to be significant." The balance of opinion before the Committee appeared to accept this position. Several witnesses to the Committee cited the RCVS position that, since 1992, it considers the tail docking of dogs, for reasons other than therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic purposes, to be unethical.

The report continues: "A number of witnesses argued that docking should remain a matter for freedom of choice for an owner. The Council for Docked Breeds stated that the UK has a large national and international market for show stock and a ban on cosmetic docking would have adverse economic repercussions. Individual breeders emphasised this position and indicated the extent to which docking practice is still driven by traditional breed standards. .

While a number of witnesses stated that several other countries already prohibit docking completely, the Kennel Club cited evidence from Sweden that the treatment of tail injuries had subsequently increased and that treatment was much more problematic in mature dogs. Siobhan Mullan argued that there was no significant evidence of additional tail injuries post-ban. Chris Laurence of the Dogs Trust also stated that "I know of no professional veterinary body in a country that has banned tail docking that is clamouring for its return because of a high rate of tail injuries."

The issue of docking for breed standards versus that of docking for working dogs was hotly debated. The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) stated, with some support from veterinary witnesses, that any damage to a dog's tail (for example, from working in thick undergrowth) would be very painful and extremely difficult to heal.

However, a number of witnesses queried how 'working dogs' could be defined (for example, by species or by owner's stated intention) to limit docking as intended by the Executive, or how those genuinely destined to work could be identified at a few days old.

There was also uncertainty on how qualifying litters would be identified, with some witnesses suggesting that there should be a scheme to register known breeders or purchasers of working dogs. However, a number of other witnesses, including the League Against Cruel Sports and the BVA suggested that, if a dog's welfare is likely to be jeopardised by putting it to work in certain situations, it should not be used that way.

The report reached the following conclusions: "The Committee agrees with the Executive’s intention to prohibit the docking of dogs’ tails for cosmetic or breed standard purposes.

It appears quite clear that the Scottish Executive’s original intention to impose a ban on tail docking was a foregone conclusion, whatever evidence was provided to the Committee.
* A full copy of the report can be found at: