THE SCOTTISH Executive has upheld its earlier decision to impose a total ban on the docking of dogs' tails in Scotland from the end of April under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act, with anyone breaking the law subject to prosecution leading to six months in prison or a fine of up to £5,000.
The ban will take effect from April 30th, subject to approval from two Scottish Parliamentary Committees, the Subordinate Legislation Committee and the Environment and Rural Affairs Committee. However, Animal Health and Welfare Minister Ross Finnie decided to make the announcement last Thursday, ahead of the Committee’s decisions, a move which many – including the Scottish Kennel Club – condemned as extremely arrogant.
Mr Finnie claimed the step had not been taken lightly and had followed ‘wide consultation’.
However, exemptions in the Act include the docking of lambs and pigs’ tails' and ear tagging, together with the microchipping of pet animals and the castration of farm animals, leading to accusations of double standards and hypocrisy against the Executive.
According to the Executive, the Act only bans procedures that interfere with the bone structure or sensitive tissue of animals for non-medical reasons.
Liberal Democrat MSP Mr Finnie said: ‘Tail docking of dogs involves the removal of most or part of the tail, severing muscles, tendons, nerves and sometimes bone or cartilage. That cannot be justified because of a possibility that the dog may injure its tail in later life.
‘A ban on tail docking is not a step which we have taken lightly.’
He said the arguments against docking outweighed those in its favour.
‘Tail docking is opposed by the leading veterinary organisations and I'm clear that ending tail docking will improve animal welfare in Scotland,’ he said.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and the Scottish SPCA all oppose tail docking except where a tail is injured or diseased.
A poll commissioned by the Edinburgh-based animal charity Advocates for Animals found more than two thirds of Scots believed the docking of dogs' tails should be banned.
Advocates' political director Libby Anderson said: ‘We welcome the Scottish Executive's approach, which recognises that animals should not routinely have body parts removed without there being over-riding welfare reasons to do so.
‘We believe that this approach should be extended to all mutilations of animals.
‘We need a wholesale review of all procedures that cause pain.’
The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association had argued that working dogs are prone to injuring their tales in heavy undergrowth, causing them more suffering than docking.
Chairman Alex Hogg said: ‘The minister has failed in his obligation to protect the welfare of our working dogs and condemned many breeds to a life of pain in his attempts to curry favour with animals rights activists. The countryside will not forget.’
He added that dog owners were now likely to take bitches to England, Wales or Ireland to give birth, where the puppies can then be legally docked.
However, he said the Act's provisions precluded owners from transporting Scottish-born puppies to England to have the procedure carried out, although the Act cannot and does not prevent the bitches from giving birth in countries where docking is legal.
This leads to a potential legal minefield for any prosecution under the Act for ‘illegal’ docking insofar as the authorities will have to prove that the bitch did not whelp outside of Scotland and that the puppies were not docked outside of Scotland.
Conservative rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson criticised the ban.
‘It is complete and utter folly which flies in the face of all reasonable evidence,’ he said.
Not surprisingly, the decision was welcomed by the League Against Cruel Sports' Scotland campaigner Louise Robertson, who said: ‘This is a really positive step for the Scottish Executive to ban the cruel practice of animal mutilations,’ she said. ‘It is yet another example of Scotland taking the lead over the rest of the UK on important animal welfare issues.’
The British Association for the Shooting and Conservation greeted the news with mixed feelings.
James Scott, BASC Scotland’s Press & Policy Officer said: ‘We are particularly disappointed that the Scottish Executive is recommending this course of action.
‘The Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act is a good piece of legislation with the exception of a ban on tail docking for dogs. We fail to see how such a ban can be considered compatible with the over-arching aims of the Act. Tail docking is a simple, prophylactic measure that protects working dogs from tail injury for the rest of their lives.’
Mr. Finnie cited support for the ban from the major veterinary associations despite receiving research from BASC Scotland that showed 31% of Scotland’s vets were supportive of docking for working dogs.
James Scott added: ‘BASC Scotland will continue to lobby for an exemption from this ban for working dogs. The Executive has already stated its commitment to review this legislation, so it is important that we receive evidence of injuries sustained because of a ban to submit to this process.’
Hollow and Hypocritical
The Council of Docked Breeds was also ‘very disappointed’ at the Executive's ‘short-sighted decision’.
CDB Secretary Ginette Elliott commented: ‘The comments made by Animal Health and Welfare Minister Ross Finnie that the decision to ban tail docking has not been taken lightly, has the support of vets in Scotland and will ultimately improve animal welfare has a very hollow and hypocritical ring when one sees that the docking of lamb's tails are exempt.
‘Perhaps the Minister - and indeed the whole Executive - is more afraid of upsetting the powerful farming lobby than in the opinions of experienced dog owners and veterinary experts who have pointed out consistently that tail docking is not a painful or harmful procedure when carried out correctly.
‘Experience of total tail docking bans in other countries such as Sweden has shown that tail deformities and tail injuries will occur in hitherto docked breeds. The politicians' short-sighted and selective decision to ban tail docking will lead to far greater animal welfare problems than those it purports to solve.’
The CDB said that it will continue to oppose the total tail docking ban in Scotland and will monitor the effects of the ban on the health and welfare of dogs in the coming months and years.