The future welfare of working dogs in Scotland was to be decided by a vote in the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday, May 31.
The stage 3 consideration of the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Bill will include a vote on whether tail docking of working dogs, such as spaniels and terriers, will be allowed to continue.
The Westminster Parliament voted to exempt working dogs from a ban on tail docking in March but Holyrood is being advised by Environment and Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie to ban tail docking for all dogs.
Mr Finnie announced a u-turn on a possible exemption for working dogs on the 20th February. Since then the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), and other organisations, have been encouraging their members to tell their MSPs how important tail docking is for the welfare of their working gundogs. Tail docking (shortening) is a simple procedure, carried out by vets when puppies are less than five days old and protects working dogs for life. Damage to the tail in later years frequently leads to the need for complete amputation.
Many MSPs have stated that they support the practical need for tail docking and will support one of the two amendments that are being proposed on Wednesday by Ted Brocklebank MSP and Andrew Arbuckle MSP. However, a number of MSPs have said that they do not support tail docking. Maureen Watt, MSP for north east Scotland wrote to a BASC member saying that she will support the ban on docking, and that ‘the trimming of tail hair is an adequate alternative to reduce the risk of injury’.
BASC Scotland Director, Dr Colin Shedden, said ‘Gundogs like spaniels can injure their undocked tails while working in dense cover, such as brambles and gorse, due to the tail constantly beating against the vegetation. To suggest that removing the hair, the only protection against abrasion, will prevent serious injury is ludicrous.
‘This Bill is supposed to contribute to the health and welfare of farm and companion animals. What Ross Finnie is proposing, supported by MSPs with little understanding of the subject, is likely to expose many working dogs to serious injury in their adult life.’
Ross Finnie has also introduced another amendment to the Bill that would make it an offence to take a puppy from Scotland to have its tail docked by a vet in England.
Dr Colin Shedden said ‘The irony of this whole issue is that the strongest proponent of the ban on tail docking in Scotland is Ross Finnie himself, a Liberal Democrat MSP. In Westminster, the exemption to allow working dogs to be docked in England and Wales was supported by both Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy, present and past Liberal Democrat leaders and both Scottish MPs. Maureen Watt is an SNP MSP and her party leader, Alex Salmond MP, also supported the tail docking exemption.’