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The docking debate goes on

Mr Bowles, Ms Scott-Parker and Ms Mooney

The RSPCA, BVA and BSAVA held a joint press conference at the The British Veterinary Association in central London on Monday 9th January calling for a total ban on the docking of dogs’ tails with the slogan ‘Every dog should have a tail to tell’, writes Diana Rich.

The meeting, which was opened by head of external affairs Mr David Bowles, was dedicated to the late Tony Banks who had been MP for Newham West and who had worked tirelessly for animal rights throughout his career. With Mr Bowles were Ms Emma Milne, a Vet who is generally better known for her television appearances over the past 10 years in Vets In Practice, Mr Tim Miles from the RSPCA, Ms Freda Scott Park, President of the BVA and Ms Carmel Mooney, BSAVA President.

Ms Scott-Park welcomed the Animal Welfare Bill which received its second reading on Tuesday 10th January, saying she felt that it would be beneficial to have the same legislation applying to England, Scotland and Wales.

She expressed the view that docking was a kind word which meant mutilation and that whilst therapeutic docking under anaesthetic was acceptable practice, the docking of tails for cosmetic purposes was not. She pointed out that in the customarily docked breeds The Kennel Club breed standards gave a requirement for both docked and undocked tails, and she looked forward to the time when all the show-dogs of the future have tails.

She also felt that there was no justification of docking for prophylactic reasons in the working breeds, tails should not be docked just in case they are damaged later while the dog is working.
Ms Emma Milne was the other speaker at the meeting and she said that her website receive about 100 signatures a week registering against the practice. Most traditionally docked breeds are still docked; she said she regularly sees docked puppies for their first injection and that many owners are unaware that the pup had been born with a long tail. Ms Milne said vets do not support preventative docking and compared it with cutting out a human’s tongue to prevent the discomfort suffered when one bites one’s tongue.
There were cases cited of lay-people having been prosecuted for illegal docking.

There were also details given of a MORI poll commissioned by the RSPCA which was carried out in 11 regions and the data was weighted by gender, age, work status and ethnicity. The questionnaire was about tail docking of dogs… Tail docking is the removal of all or part of a dog’s tail by a vet. This might be done for medical reasons – for example if the dog’s tail has been injured – or for cosmetic reasons (that the owner feels it will improve the dog’s appearance). I would like to ask you particularly about this second form of tail docking – where the tail is removed for cosmetic reasons. By law, this has to be done by a qualified vet and is carried out whilst the dog is only a few days old (that is, before it has first opened its eyes). To what extent, if at all, do you support or oppose tail docking for cosmetic reasons? Strongly support 4%, Tend to support 4%, neither support or oppose 15%, tend to oppose 13%, strongly oppose 62% don’t know 2%.

Views were cited from other organisations including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons: The Royal College has for many years been opposed to the docking of dogs’ tails, whatever the age of the dog, by anyone, unless it can be shown truly to be required for therapeutic or truly prophylactic reasons.

From Mr Peter Vaughan, Chair, Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Police Dogs came the following: Police services throughout England and Wales continue to rely on breeders and dogs donated as gifts as the principal source of recruitment. Gift dogs that are donated with their tails intact will not routinely have them docked. However, the operational requirements upon police dogs are such that injury may be caused to the tail and in such circumstances and following veterinary advice, this procedure may be carried out. Forces with their own breeding programmes in place may decide for operational reasons as opposed to aesthetic or cosmetic purposes to dock the tails of puppies in order to minimise the risk of injury to the dog. This decision is left to the discretion of individual forces.

The panel were asked if they had approached The Kennel Club and asked their views; they said they had not had recent talks although on previous occasions they had spoken to Mr Phil Buckley and Dr Geoff Sampson.

It was mentioned that several other countries have a ban in force, including places like Sweden and Denmark who have a total ban; these countries have said they have no evidence of any increase in welfare problems.

There were several vets in attendance, some of whom admitted to having docked in the past but stated that they no longer do so.

Although cases had been cited of illegal docking, it was recognised that most docked puppies are docked by veterinary surgeons, and it was suggested this was only done because of pressure from breeders; it was also acknowledged that many pups are transported quite a distance to a vet prepared to dock.

The Animal Welfare Bill will be returned to the House of Commons for a free vote which will probably occur some time next month.