Thanks to The Scotsman for this article.
Dogs’ tail-docking: the kindest cut?
JIM Clark’s dogs are happy. You can tell that by their glossy coats, eager faces and wagging stumps. For all four of the springer spaniels jumping around at their master’s feet have had their tails docked, although they certainly wag what is left of them furiously when being petted or given another treat.
To suggest these dogs have been treated cruelly is an insult not only to Mr Clark, but to hundreds of other dog owners around Scotland who have had their dogs’ tails cut short as puppies.
Yet this is exactly what the Scottish Executive did yesterday, with a ban on the docking of dogs’ tails, complete with the threat of a 5,000 fine and six months in jail for anyone found guilty of the offence.
Not since the ban on hunting with dogs has any issue so aptly illustrated the split between town and country.
With the closure of rural post offices looming over Scotland, the increasing burden of regulations from Brussels and the fight for services such as schools and hospitals, countryside campaigners said the ban was further evidence of the Scottish Parliament’s lack of understanding of the ways of rural people.
The ban on tail docking is actually one of several animal welfare reforms to go through the Scottish Parliament without much question.
But it has caused a furore on the scale of the hunting ban, with gamekeepers protesting outside parliament that the Executive had been forced to delay bringing in the regulation. However, it seemed once again the Executive was not listening to the countryside.
Yesterday, Ross Finnie, the environment and rural development minister, announced that, after further consultation with vets and other interested parties, a ban would come in on 30 April this year – subject to almost certain approval by parliament.
“Tail-docking of dogs involves the removal of most or part of the tail, severing muscles, tendons, nerves and sometimes bone or cartilage,” he said. “That cannot be justified because of a possibility that the dog may injure its tail in later life.”
Police and local authority inspectors will use a range of powers under animal heath and welfare acts to enforce the law. It will also be illegal to transport breeding bitches to another country, including England, Ireland or Wales, where docking is still legal, with the intention of having puppies’ tails removed.
“A ban on tail-docking is not a step which we have taken lightly,” Mr Finnie said. “Tail-docking is opposed by the leading veterinary organisations, and I’m clear that ending tail-docking will improve animal welfare in Scotland.”
However, Alex Hogg, the chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said the law would do the opposite.
He said exuberant working dogs, such as spaniels, almost never stopped wagging their tails. This put them at risk of injury in dense cover or small spaces.
“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 attempt to curry favour with animal rights activists,” he said.
Mr Hogg also said the breeding industry would lose out on income, as well as pedigree bloodlines, as docked puppies would be brought up from England and Wales, or even smuggled in dire conditions from Ireland, instead of being bred in Scotland.
“It is wee small things slicing away at us all the time,” he said. “They [the Scottish Executive] are just listening to an urban voice. They are not listening to the rural voice.”
Neil Rafferty, of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said the ban showed a misunderstanding of the countryside. “Country people love animals, so when we support tail-docking it is because we know leaving tails long harms working dogs,” he said.
“Scotland is an urban country and the Scottish Parliament is dominated by urban MSPs, so there is still an underlying deficiency when it comes to rural affairs. We want to close that gap. It is their duty to understand all the different ways of life in Scotland.”
Mr Rafferty said he would not be surprised to see people who were passionate about working dogs vote according to the issue.