reprinted with permission from the Empire Kerry Club newsletter
Dog people in this country probably feel rather more closely akin to those in Britain and its "colonies" than to the rest of the world, where attitudes towards canines may differ wildly from ours--i.e. dogs as foodstuffs in the markets of Asia. Therefore, recent happenings in the United Kingdom involving the historic docking of tails must make us ask, "Can it happen here?" And perhaps it can, what with the rise of the animal rights movement and our almost total ignorance of what's been happening on the other side of the pond.
In Britain as of July 1, 1993 under the Veterinary Surgeons Act, it became illegal for anyone other than a qualified vet to dock puppies' tails. Kerry people would possibly argue that breeders and handlers are capable of performing their own tail docking, but that is definitely not the issue. With exclusive legal authority, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons then publicly declared "unethical and unprofessional" its members practicing docking, unless it is vital to the health of the dog. Mr. Allcock, a British vet for 44 years, is quoted as saying, "Docking of dogs' tails has been purely cosmetic, going up and down according to fashion in the same way as women's skirts. It is a painful operation carried out by lay people, often without the aid of painkillers. It robs the dogs of their ability to communicate with other dogs, animals and humans, and affects their balance."
Most British vets were all too ready to agree. An article entitled "Vets in the Dock" in DOGS today, January '93 issue, states that in a survey early this year, 92 percent of replies from UK vets supported a ban on tail docking even though it is a procedure for which they are paid a fee. A similar survey in Australia found 86 percent of vets opposed to non-therapeutic docking. According to the July AKC Gazette, docking has been banned in Sweden since 1989.
Astonished by such devious and successful British anti-docking tactics, Kerry people would probably agree with The Princess Royal, HRH Princess Anne, who while addressing the British Veterinary Association warned that the surgeons "were off the mark" to call docking mutilation and that puppies don't really know what is going on when their tails are removed. Her Royal Highness, president of the Animal Health Trust, said that "instead of trying to halt tail docking, the vets should be dealing with more serious animal welfare issues."
According to the July 21st Daily Telegraph, dog breeders in Britain are now fighting back. Out of a total 252,524 puppies registered in 1992 with the Royal Kennel Club, 79,205 or 31.4 percent were from traditionally docked breeds. The Kennel Club itself has stated that, "the procedure has not been shown to be cruel and in certain breeds it is prophylactic, such as for working gun dogs." It concluded that "the decision is one for the owner and breeder while a ban could cause friction between veterinary surgeons and breeders of docked breeds," adding with typical understatement: "Refusal by a vet to dock puppies would inevitably harm relations." This seems faint support from a Kennel Club which, however, like our AKC, is primarily a registry body. The AKC, in a similar situation, would no doubt be unable to be of any greater assistance.
A new group called "The Council for Docked Breeds," representing 47 out of the 185 listed varieties which traditionally have their tails docked, accused the College of Veterinary Medicine's ban of putting "moral pressure" on vets not to dock. Peter Squires, Chairman of the Council and a Boxer breeder, said, "People were misled. The moment the change in the law went through, the college tried by the back door to ban tail docking. This is disgraceful behavior." A member, Miss Sue Bradley, said that when the Government proposed the change in the law, dog breeders were not notified or consulted. "For some reason, the Jockey Club and cat breeders were on the list but not us."
The Council for Docked Breeds is now raising money to pay legal costs for vets who continue to dock and is also pressuring Parliament for a change in the Veterinary Surgeons Act to permit qualified lay people to perform the procedure. Can this be effective when a survey conducted by breeders fighting the ban found that only 9 percent of Britain's 8,141 practicing vets say they will continue to perform the operation?
Meanwhile, Mrs. Judy Anderson Clark, president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (the organization imposing the docking ban), said, "We have considered docking a unjustified mutilation since the early 1970's and 90 percent of small animal vets favored a total ban." Mrs. Clark concluded with, "I hope to see lots of tails on formerly docked breeds at Crufts in a few years time."
A question not raised is--what about the Standards of the docked breeds? What would an un-docked tail do to these Standards? Would they then have to specify how the long tail is to be carried? An undocked Kerry tail (heaven forbid--ed.) might look pretty much like a Portuguese Water Dog's whose Standard specifies an un-docked tail "thick at the base and tapering, medium setting. When the dog is attentive, the tail should be held in a ring, the front of which should not reach beyond the forward line of the hips." Also in present times, there must surely be breeding reasons for the docked tail, as some dogs bred for certain qualities of breed structure have definitely not been selected for the elegance of their longest extremity!
Let's profit from this sneak attack by the British on the terrier tail. Did you know what was happening over there? Can it happen here? Not if we are informed and vigilant.