UNSURPRISINGLY, THE RSPCA’s well-oiled publicity machine rolled into action at their press conference, with so-called ‘celebrity’ vet Emma Milne citing the usual buzzwords such as "uncaring breeders", "cosmetic surgery", "cruel mutilation" and likening the procedure of docking a 3 day old puppy to chopping off a baby’s little finger, writes Nick Mays. Meanwhile the Council of Docked Breeds adopted a low-key approach by sending Briefing Notes on the Facts Behind Docking to all news media and MPs who were preparing to debate the Animal Welfare Bill.
Nothing could have been more low-key than the end result – in all media mentions of the Great Crusade against tail docking, there was not a single, solitary mention of the CDB or the facts about tail docking.
Either the entire media is turning a blind eye to the real facts (not unknown, of course, when one recalls the Dangerous Dogs Act in the early 1990s), or the CDB’s press campaign leaves a lot to be desired.
Not that there was anything wrong with the CDB’s presentation. There statement ran:
"Throughout the development of this Bill, the issue of tail docking has been amongst the most fiercely debated subjects within it. Pedigree dog breeders and owners, and those who own and handle working dogs, argue strongly in favour of retaining the freedom to have their litters docked. When the Government consulted on its proposals to reform Animal Welfare legislation in 2002:
More than half of the 33 vets who responded on docking said it should not be banned
All 113 dog breed clubs which responded, representing 12,744 members, said docking should not be banned
1,590 members of the public commented on docking, 80% of whom opposed a ban on docking"
The CDB went on to point out that when the Government published its Draft Animal Welfare Bill in July 2004, it envisaged a general ban on docking, with exemptions only for certain working dogs.
That position was changed on publication of the Bill presently before the House, where the Regulatory Impact Assessment which accompanies the Bill states at Paragraph 15: "Sincere views were held by those who both support and oppose a ban on cosmetic docking and our preference is that there should continue to be freedom of choice."
But even with all the facts carefully laid out, with the CDB explaining that it was still in favour of only vets carrying out the procedure, still no media take-up, still no alternative point of view. The Kennel Club remained eerily silent on the issue too. True, the real ‘bones’ of the Animal Welfare Bill will be decided in Select Committee before the Bill’s Third Reading later this year and then the House of Lords’ deliberations, so maybe there is something to be said for a low-key approach. But in the meantime, there’s the well-practised, well-funded and slickly executed anti-docking campaign by the RSPCA and its supporters and it’s not so much a steady drip-drip-drip of anti-docking, anti-breeder propaganda as a torrent.
The battle for the public’s heart and mind is clearly an unequal one.