Dog breeders find way round tail docking law

TAIL docking has been illegal in Scotland since the introduction of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 but an East Lothian dog breeder claims that people are just crossing over the border into England where the procedure can still be carried out if proof is provided that the dog is likely to be used as a working dog.

Those in favour of the practice of tail docking, such as Michael Brander, argue that it prevents the dogs from potentially suffering injuries while working and these injuries often result in the tail having to be docked, which is a painful procedure in a mature dog.

Mr Brander claims that Scottish breeders could be losing around 2 million in lost sales as people wanting working dogs, such as spaniels, pointers and terriers are crossing into England to buy the puppies, whose tails can be docked legally. In England under the the Animal Welfare Act 2006, vets can carry out tail docking if evidence is provided that the dog is likely to be used for work, such as shooting and pest control.

Regular correspondence between Mr Brander and the office of First Minister Alex Salmond, has been on-going since last year and the Government's Animal Health and Welfare Division has confirmed that they have contributed 10,000 towards a case control study to estimate the risk of tail injury to dogs.

The Rural Directorate response is: "The aims of the study are to document the risks of tail injuries in dogs in the UK, to evaluate whether docking of tails reduces the risk of tail injury and to identify other major risk factors for tail injury.

"The study, which commenced in October 2007, is being undertaken by the University of Bristol and the Royal Veterinary College in North Mymms. It will run for 12 months and will involve some 30 veterinary practices in Scotland, England and Wales."

This response has not gone down well with Mr Lander who said: "Your predecessors in power in Scotland passed a bad and unenforceable law largely influenced by veterinary bodies deeply indoctrinated against all cosmetic surgery on dogs. You intend to refer the matter for more veterinary opinion at a cost of 10,000. In the meantime very few of those many gamekeepers and small breeders who would have bred and sold a litter of pups will do so because there is no sale for long-tailed working dogs when docked working dogs can be freely bought and sold elsewhere in the UK.

"These are the basic legal and financial objections to this flawed legislation. Even more fundamental, however, is the question of the freedom of choice of the individual. Under this current law our freedom is being curtailed in Scotland as opposed to the rest of the UK. It is currently just a question of hopping over the border, but how long will it be before there is barbed wire blocking the way, with watch towers and machine guns in place ? This is the insidious way freedom is curtailed and dictatorships begin. This law is directly breaching the rights of Scots as laid down by the Declaration of Arbroath."

Renton, Swan and Partners have veterinary practices on both sides of the England/Scotland Border in Coldstream, Berwick and Duns. They would be able to carry out tail docking on working dogs at their Berwick premises, but as a practice have a policy of not docking tails. So Scottish dog owners wanting the procedure done on their working dogs would have to travel further down England before they could find a vet prepared to carry it out.

Owner Stuart Renton confirmed tail docking did not happen in his practices on either side of the border, and added: "My stance is it should not happen."

Mr Brander has recently published a book 'Breeding Working Dogs' and in an appendix at the end of the book he attacks the tail docking of working dogs legislation.

"No one would wish to condone unnecessary surgery on dogs such as ear cropping, or indeed tail docking, simply for show purposes, but there are certain categories of working dogs that need to have their tails docked as puppies to prevent the likelihood of injury when working as an adult dog and then having to have major surgery. I have seen an undocked dog's tail bleeding after working in thick cover. Once this happens sores develop easily and the mature dog requires its tail docked to continue working."