Tail Docking: A Wake-Up Call

I recently had the misfortune of encountering a puppy farmer who docked the tails of her dogs. The word ‘docked’ makes it sound gentler than it is. She had the tails cut off her already abused, mistreated and neglected puppies. The authorities are dealing with her, for a number of reasons, but that’s the sort of person I think of when I hear about people who cut the tails off puppies.

This week, I had a wake-up call. I received a message from someone I respect, admire and who has been a role model to me since my teenage years. She is one of the most incredible, genuine and accepting people I have ever known. She oozes kindness from every paw(!) and her emotional and intellectual intelligence is extraordinary. The message shared that she was getting a puppy as her husband was retiring and they’re now in a position to give a dog the time he deserves. You couldn’t wish for a more fabulous family for a dog.

Of course, as with any excited dog-parent-to-be, a photo followed.

A small puppy was looking at me from an empty, plastic bed covered in sawdust and I thought, but wasn’t completely sure from the picture, there was a tail missing.

When I asked about the tail, I was told ‘it’s legally docked.’

Now, let’s put the ethics of cutting off dog’s tails aside for a minute. There are legal exemptions, whether we agree with them or not. I do not.

In England, the law states that ‘docking’ is permitted if a dog is certain to be used for working roles such as police work, legal hunting (don’t even get me started on that) and are of a specific breed. The puppy in question is one of the breeds listed, but, is going to be a family pet and hopefully working with children. That is NOT a working dog under the exemptions.

The law doesn’t state that you can cut the tails off any dog of the listed breeds.

When the ‘breeder’ takes the puppy to have their tail cut off, they have to sign to say that the dog will be used for a working role connected to law enforcement, pest control or lawful gun sport (seriously, the rant on that is brewing).

So, the reply of ‘it’s legally docked’ is not true for someone who is going to hand over money for a family pet.

There are also medical exemptions, which of course, make perfect sense. If your dog has been injured and the damage to the tail is irreparable, a vet will discuss amputation with you. That’s different!

What about the ethics? I am struggling to understand how one of the most incredible people I know hasn’t questioned this. I’ve been told that this is a ‘registered’ breeder and that they’ve seen Mum and the dogs are healthy, etc etc. She has done everything right, she has followed the guidance, and she has now fallen in love with a very cute puppy.

She told me she hadn’t really thought about the implications of ‘docking’ (cutting puppy’s tails off) and while it blows my brains, I can also understand why when I get my head out of my arse. She went to someone she believed could be trusted. So, when I come along and question that, she believes she has two conflicting opinions.

What’s the first thing that we do when we have a question? Yep, we ask Dr Google. So, I wondered what she’d find on the World Wide Web and I put ‘tail docking dogs UK’ into the search engine. To my relief, the articles that came up were explicit about the law; with the British Veterinary Association’s policy showing up on page one. So, it’s relatively easy to find the information along with reputable sources explaining their position on why it’s unnecessary, unlawful and unethical. However, you have to be looking for that information and when you’re someone who simply wants to bring a dog into the family, you’re looking for local breeders, not BVA policy.

In this case, the puppy has already been tortured (tell me it isn’t torture, what else is it?) and why would anyone deny him the chance of an amazing home? But, why would anyone support this abuse by handing over money and therefore fuel the supply and demand?

Taking away the legalities, have we reached a point where we’re no longer applying logic? Surely if someone says ‘we’ve chopped the tail off the puppy,’ there’s an immediate ‘why?’ that follows?  I know that one reason that’s given for ‘working’ dogs to have their tail cut off is because it has been suggested that they can be injured when they’re ‘working’. Since when have we pre-empted injury by causing an injury? Let’s not get into a vaccination debate, that’s something for another day. It doesn’t make sense to cut off a tail on the off-chance that the dog might injure it. If that dog is going to be a family pet, then the ‘why?’ response surely becomes a wail of ‘why have you hurt my puppy?’ Or, words to that effect. A dog’s tail is a fundamental part of their ability to communicate and when it comes to allowing them to maintain that ability, we have to communicate on their behalf.

Let’s also take a moment to consider that the plans for this dog involve being around children. One of the few things I like about children (it’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of young humans, I’m all about the animals) is their ability to ask the questions that adults often shy away from so ‘where’s his tail’ will no doubt be something that’s asked. Rightly so. What will the children learn from the response that’s given?

There’s an enormous amount of suffering that dogs experience at the hands of humans and the only way we can join the ranks of the people trying to change that is to speak up. I used to think about things like this with quite a basic outlook; that ‘good people’ would love their dogs, treat them with kindness and advocate for the end of suffering and ‘bad people’ hurt dogs and supported those who continue to perpetrate that suffering.

It’s really not that simple! Good people trust the information that’s given to them; they see the best in others and can’t even begin to fathom why anyone would deliberately assault a defenceless puppy. This is what really upsets me because good people are being deceived. I can’t – and won’t – consider the person who messaged me as anything other than the wonderful person I know she is. If she still chooses to take on this puppy, I know that he will have an incredible home, but that doesn’t mean I will stay silent. On the contrary, it fuels my desire to join the ranks of people who are standing up for dogs who are suffering at the hands of people.

So, it’s up to us to make sure we’re talking about these things, with kindness, when we have the opportunity to do so. We always have the opportunity to do so!

I’m firmly of the opinion that while there are so many dogs in rescue, that’s the only place to go when looking for a family pet. For people who say ‘but we want a puppy’, you’ll find one in rescue. I’ve been watching as the fabulous Hilbrae Rescue (who support us by allowing us to work with their rescue dogs as canine co-tutors on our programmes) have nurtured a number of puppies over recent weeks and have found forever homes for them. For people who say ‘but we want a certain breed’, there are breed-specific rescues who will help you find the perfect puppy/dog for your family. I know that my personal stance on this isn’t shared by everyone and that’s ok! There are some breeders out there who do put the dog’s welfare first, in every sense of the word.

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