Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567
Docking: 30 years on

I have been an observer and occasional contributor to the docking debate for over 30 years. Little has changed over that period, so I was interested to hear ‘conclusive evidence’ as to why tail docking of dogs must be banned under the Animal Welfare Bill.

This ‘evidence’ is to be presented to a Press Conference and photo call at BVA headquarters Monday January 9th. Top of the bill will be TV vet Emma Milne. A visit to Ms Milne’s web site will reveal, to those who did not already know it, that she believes: “…that nature knows best and the truth is that the extremes of shape and conformation we have created in our dogs and cats would never occur naturally. Many of these changes are a result of showing and breeding. I feel very strongly that if you have a pet it should be a relationship that is beneficial to both of you. I don’t like to see dogs being over-groomed and preened so that people can parade them round a ring to try to win prizes with them.”

Those who think this debate is only about docking, please think again, she goes on to say: “…This is of no benefit to the animals in any way and simply perpetuates an industry that is genetic modification gone mad.”

Some may well agree with her. Mainly those in the veterinary profession who believe that dogs come in sizes, XL – L – M – S with rough or smooth coats. Readers of this paper will, no doubt, believe in a rather wider freedom of choice!

I suspect the supporting act will be Chris Laurence, ex RSPCA Chief vet: now employed by Dogs Trust, the well respected charity organisation, whose expertise is in re homing. He will no doubt explain, as he has done previously, that if puppies show minimal reaction to pain this should not be interpreted as the puppy not perceiving any pain. He asks that it be born in mind that neonatal puppies are vulnerable to predators and that noise would attract such predators. Therefore he feels that for evolutionary reasons puppies are unlikely to always make a noise as a reaction to pain. (Brave little creatures!)

Those attending will probably hear that possibly the greatest mutilation of all ‘spaying’ is justified because, ‘it is done to prevent mammary tumours and that sort of thing…’. Maybe, but I doubt many readers will think it the prime reason. It will rarely be explained that it may well result in ‘changed temperament’ or ‘change in coat’, ‘post operative difficulties’, ‘obesity’ and of course incontinence.

Incontinence is interesting in that it is one of the conditions which those anti-docking claim is exacerbated by docking. No proof of course, just another maybe or could be. Those attending will hear a lot of those, but more decisively presented.

In order to achieve the objective, the presentation of ‘conclusive evidence’, they will have to explain how it is that in the 36 years of scientific endeavour on this subject they can only offer ‘opinion and possibility’ and not fact. They rely on but three platforms a) Six tests of ethical justification in a discussion paper by Professor Morton. These tests carefully try to sanctify those procedures of which he and his friends approve and practice and outlaw those that he does not. Problem is that the interpretation of these opinionated principles depends entirely on your point of view. Most breeders would claim to satisfy them.

Submission, b) what has come to be known as the Australian Wansborough Report. This is a discussion of Morton and a general trawling of various snippets of information from scientific papers. Much of it unrelated to the two day old whelp and in the main devoted to unproven ‘possibilities’. If the ills that this report bestows on the docked breeds were fact, then the profession should have no difficulty in identifying them as directly related to docking; at the very least an analysis of the disproportionate appearance, with said ills, exhibited by the docked breed in practitioners’ surgeries.

Submission c) what appears to be the main plank in the BVA’s argument. ‘There is also no scientific evidence to show that undocked working dogs damage their tails any more than undocked non-working dogs. A seven-year study at the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies showed insufficient evidence of statistical significance to suggest a positive association between tail injuries and undocked tails’. (In other words it proved nothing!)
If this survey is of such fundamental significance that it is a KEYSTONE of the anti case, why was the database NOT modified in 1984, in such a way as to produce more accurate data 21years later?

This is typical, if you can get your head round it, of scientific evaluation by the BVA. Firstly it was not a dedicated study over seven-years. It was a study going back over seven years of data. What’s the difference? If it had been carried out over seven years, the researchers would have known which dogs in the study had tails and which had not. “Dogs were defined as being docked or undocked according to the normal practice related to their breed. Example all Boxers assumed docked and Whippets assumed undocked.”

Conclusion: ‘There is insufficient evidence at the 5% level of statistical significance to suggest that there is a positive association between tail injuries and undocked tails.’

It does not seem unreasonable to assume that in the docked group all but about 5% would have had their tails docked to a greater or less extent. What would have been the result had the 95% not been docked, as now advocated? The other interesting point is that, in spite of all the other dreaded consequences supposedly brought about by docking, the attendance by docked breeds at this practice was less than 22% of the total.

It will be interesting to hear how they will explain why out of something like 50 procedures classified by the RCVS in 1987, as mutilations, only docking should now warrant the accolade of being ‘BARBARIC’! Much of the so-called evidence on pain, irrelevant to two day old pups, is extrapolated from these other procedures and yet they warrant no condemnation whatever!
Once again the assembled audience will be told we only want to dock for cosmetic reasons and tradition. That they get away with this is our fault! Breeders have failed to adequately explain that when they talk about maintaining BREED ‘STANDARDS’ they are talking about just that. Conformation to type within the context of health and temperament. If this ban materialises the gene pool will diminish. Registrations in parts of Australia, just 12 month into a ban, are down in some breeds by as much as 48%. This is before those dogs breed have been selected as suitable for breeding purposes.

Freedom of Choice is paramount: the ability to do what you want subject to others being able to do what they want.Vets to have their views and tend the sick, breeders too have their view whilst living and providing 24 /7 for the sound healthy stock which is admired the world over. Are these same breeders animal abusers?

If this suggested ban is achieved then watch out, it is merely the precedent for the future regulation of breeding. Ms Milne will be well on her way to achieving her goal but some very experienced breeders hesitate to think of the debris that will be left in her wake. It could well proved a Bonanza for the profession!