AS WIDELY expected, the docking of dogs’ tails will be banned following a vote by MPs on Tuesday night, but working dogs, including those involved in country activities and those in the police service, will be exempt from the law.
An attempt to impose a total ban on tail docking of all dogs in England and Wales was narrowly rejected by 11 votes. The votes came as amendments made in the report-stage debate on the Animal Welfare Bill.
Animal charities said they would continue to fight for a full ban against what they term a ‘mutilation’. Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports said, perhaps predictably: "This is a scandalous and shabby compromise that will lead to unnecessary suffering for large numbers of dogs in the shooting industry. The League will continue to campaign against tail-docking to seek to persuade Government that such mutilation of dogs is never necessary."
The real sting in the tail – no pun intended – was the wording of the exemption clause which would not allow any working dogs docked under the new law from being exhibited at shows. This would prevent any docked dogs from competing in the popular Gamekeepers’ classes at Crufts and possibly even similar events at Agricultural shows.
Becky Hawkes, spokesperson for RSPCA, said: "While we would have preferred a total ban, we are gratified that cosmetic tail-docking will become illegal and people will not be able to enter a docked dog into a show because they think it is aesthetically pleasing to see a dog without a tail. Tradition is at the heart of this brutal and painful practice, which has no basis in logic." She said almost half of finalists in this year's Crufts including the winner, an Australian shepherd, had docked tails."
However, it is understood that one of the options being considered by pro-docking campaigners is the prevention of allowing a docked working dog from being shown may contravene the owners’ human rights and there may be a possible legal challenge on this very point.
Although the legislation is expected to become law in November of this year, the legislation has yet to be further considered by the House of Lords, who may well vote to amend the legislation accordingly, or even vote to maintain the status quo
Before the debate, Ministers agreed to put the three options - an outright ban, a ban with exemption for working dogs, or the status quo - before MPs to let them settle the issue.
Tory spokesman Bill Wiggin said he personally did not favour any ban, saying: "I think that this is something that people who own dogs have to deal with themselves. I don't like bans, I don't think there is a need to ban."
But Labour's Shona McIsaac called for a complete ban, describing docking as "mutilation".
The ‘qualified’ ban was carried by 476 votes to 63, with a majority of 413, whilst the vote on allowing the working dog exemptions was carried by a narrow margin of 278-267.
News of the vote was greeted with mixed feelings by pro-docking campaigners. Peter Squires, President of the Council of Docked Breeds (CDB) told OUR DOGS: "The Council of Docked Breeds is in a unique position as it is the only organisation which has been working very closely with docking vets since 1991 and has fully gained their trust by offering them complete confidentiality."
"The majority of docking vets have told us that if they have to issue certification that they have docked a litter, they will simply cease docking. Their governing body, the RCVS already takes vets to a Disciplinary Hearing, accusing them of ‘disgraceful professional conduct’ if they obtain documentary evidence that they have legally docked a puppy under current legislation."
The CDB feels that any increase in paperwork which the RCVS can use as evidence is simply too risky. The RCVS has made no secret of its desire to ban tail docking for over thirty years and stepped up their resistance to docking when it became a vet only procedure and are not now in a position to retract their unfounded disdain for the practice.
"The vote for docking to be reduced to a working dog only procedure, will have the same result as an outright ban, or drive it underground in the working dog arena, which is not in the best interest of animal welfare. Breeds which are at the same level of risk as working dogs but not worked, have been totally ignored by this decision and many experienced breeders will simply stop breeding if forced to expose their animals to painful tail damage" continued Squires.
"MPs discussed how their own sniffer dogs damage their tails checking out the Commons for explosives and the same will happen to other dogs not worked in the field. The huge vote in favour shows that MPs accept that the procedure is necessary, but confined the exemption to too small a number of individual dogs. We now hope that the Lords can continue the good work of the many MPs who spoke eloquently in the debate and conclude that the status quo is the only option which will truly protect the future welfare of our breeds in total." he concluded.
The Countryside Alliance was ‘delighted’ that only genuine working dogs were exempt from the ban.
Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said: "By including an exemption for working dogs, MPs have engaged with our arguments, and common sense has prevailed. An exemption for working dogs is entirely in keeping with the principles of the Animal Welfare Bill, and the Alliance is extremely pleased that its extensive constituency lobbying campaign has been successful and its involvement throughout this process has been worthwhile".
The Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Country Land and Business Association all actively campaigned for the welfare of working dogs.
Under the Bill a vet will have to certify that the dog is likely to work in security, search and rescue, pest control or lawful shooting activities later in life and docked dogs will have to be identity chipped before three months of age. Defra have not yet announced the documentation that will be needed to support certification, but it may include the production of a firearms certificate or a counter signatory system similar to that for shotgun certificates.
Simon Hart added: "There could not be a better example of the importance of co-ordinated lobbying by a coalition of organisations. Our campaign revealed that contrary to the claims of the animal rights lobby there was no majority of public support for a total ban and there were senior vets who argued that the welfare of working dogs was best protected by allowing the practice to continue. Working with the Government we produced a compromise that will be practical for the shooting community and which, crucially, gave MPs confidence that only working dogs would continue to be docked.
"But this vote could not have been won without the input of thousands of ordinary working dog owners making the case to their MPs up and down the country. Constituency lobbying of MPs by the voters who elect them is always more effective than even the best Westminster lobbying operation.
"This vote was far too close for comfort and the lesson for the shooting community is clear:
lobbying and campaigning does work, but we must become more organised, motivated and effective to fight for shooting at Westminster and in constituencies".
During the debate, Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw pointed to police support for an exemption quoted from a letter dated March 9th that he had received from Assistant Chief Constable Peter Vaughan, who said: "Twenty working dogs have had to have their tails docked as a result of injury in the last two years."
He goes on to say: "Experience over many years of working with police dogs has shown us that certain dog types, performing certain roles; usually a search function where dogs are often required to work in difficult terrain and confined spaces are susceptible to causing injury to their tails. Any docking of new puppies is restricted to such dog types and conducted in order to minimise the risk of such injury, which can be particularly distressing and require a protracted period of recuperation."