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RSPCA slam exemptions to docking ban as ‘shambolic’

The new regulations, part of the Animal Welfare Act, are outlined on DEFRA’s website as part of the Statutory Instruments covered by the Act and are set to become law in England on 6 April 2007, allow a vet to dock the tail of a working dog if its owner meets certain criteria and the dog is of a certain breed or type. The docking of dogs' tails purely for showing purposes has been banned.

An RSPCA press release issued earlier this week said: ‘The world's oldest animal welfare charity is dismayed at the ill-informed drafting of the exemption, which does not even require a stringent paper trail to ensure the regulations are not routinely breached. There are no plans in England to centrally hold the certification issued when exempt dogs are docked.’

‘These new regulations are shambolic; there is absolutely no need to exempt tail docking for working dogs,’ said David McDowell, RSPCA Acting Chief Veterinary Adviser.

‘However docking is dressed up, it remains a painful and cosmetic amputation, which is all about tradition rather than the dog's welfare.

‘These laughable regulations will be difficult to enforce and are littered with opportunities for abuse. The Government seems to believe Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers, for example, are working dogs and so able to be docked for that purpose.’

Where relevant paperwork is produced to show the intention is to work dogs, the regulations allow the docking of all hunt point retrieve breeds or cross breeds; all spaniels or cross breeds; and all terriers or cross breeds. Yet not all pointers or retrievers, spaniels, and terriers are traditionally used as working dogs, nor are all of these types traditionally docked, and this has clearly irked the RSPCA.

’In Scotland there will be a complete ban from 30 April on the unacceptable practice of docking a dog's tail, except when medically required after suffering injury or disease,’ added Mr McDowell. ‘Why England was unable to emulate this sound and scientifically-led stance, is deeply disappointing.’

However, Mr Mc Dowell remained hopeful that the Welsh Assembly would not uphold the exemption for working dogs when it ratifies the Act in the next few weeks.

Although the Assembly is entitled not to ratify certain Statutory Instruments laid down in Government Acts, it is not certain that they would move to impose a full ban on tail docking by not ratifying the tail docking exemption, which is one of several such exemptions covered under ‘Mutilations’ in the Act.

The Council of Docked Breeds greeted Mr McDowell’s outburst with the following response:
‘It seems that Mr McDowell and the RSPCA don’t like it when things don’t go exactly their way,’ said Peter Squires, CDB Chairman.

‘We aren't happy with a tail docking ban in any form, but we have had to accept the exemption for working dogs as part of the new law, brought about by the democratic process we are all subject to.

‘The trouble with democracy is that sometimes you get the answer you don’t like and this is clearly the case for the RSPCA regarding the criteria that elected MPs set for the tail docking exemptions. They again issue the old chestnut that it is a 'painful and cosmetic amputation' despite DEFRA and Parliament, finding to the contrary.

‘We hear so much about Government intrusion into citizens’ private lives nowadays, so it is refreshing that the Government have not sought to over-complicate the exemption by seeking to impose intrusive measures that encroach on dog owners’ privacy with what the RSPCA term as ‘a more stringent paper trail’.

‘The CDB will continue to oppose the partial tail docking ban in England and the complete tail docking ban in Scotland through the correct legal and democratic processes and will naturally oppose any such measures that further could encroach on dog owner's civil liberties and human rights.’