President’s speech at 2002 AGM

More than ten years ago, the CDB was set up by breeders and owners of our traditionally docked breeds to defend the rights of individual breeders to retain the freedom of choice over whether or not to have their litters docked. We have campaigned tirelessly and ceaselessly over this issue of freedom of choice. We have warned the dog world when legislation or other regulations here or in Europe have threatened our freedom. We have helped those unjustly accused in relation to docking to defend themselves. At the same time we have stiffened the resolve of our friends within the veterinary profession and ensured that, wherever they might be in Britain , our members have been able to have their litters docked, legally and properly, by a veterinary surgeon.

But I must tell you now, that the threat to our freedom of choice which we currently face is more serious than at any time since the formation of the CDB.

Last January Animal Welfare Minister Elliot Morley announced that he would be conducting a consultation on whether or not the Government should introduce a new Animal Welfare Bill and, if so, the policy areas which such a Bill should cover. It came as no surprise when one of the potential measures which DEFRA highlighted was a ban on the docking of dogs’ tails.

The action which the CDB took was drastic and immediate. We urgently set about ensuring that our members were aware of the threat. We contacted each and every one of them, plus hundreds of breed clubs, field trial societies, gundog clubs and other canine organisations. We canvassed views on docking amongst every other organisation with an interest in dogs, and ensured that like-minded bodies highlighted in their submissions to DEFRA the importance of retaining the docking option. We compiled our own comprehensive and detailed case for docking, which we sent to DEFRA officials prior to the close of the consultation period.

And we spoke to hundreds of dog owners and breeders. Our stand at Crufts earlier this year was literally besieged by supporters asking us what they could do to make their own case to DEFRA. We urged them all to write in response to the consultation letter which DEFRA had posted on its internet site.

The result was impressive to say the least. Some 1,600 of the 2,500 responses which DEFRA received to its consultation letter related to docking. Among the 113 dog breed societies, gundog clubs and field trial societies which wrote to DEFRA, support for docking was unanimous. All submissions from the clubs and societies, representing a total membership in excess of 12,700 individual dog owners, were against a docking ban. Of the letters written by members of the public, no fewer than 82% were opposed to a docking ban. Among veterinary surgeons opinion was more evenly divided, but of the 29 individual veterinarians who responded, 15 opposed a docking ban. 

However, before he could possibly have seen, let alone read the letters which were still pouring through DEFRA’s postbox, Elliot Morley had already made up his mind about docking. On 30th April he announced: “I can say now, that I am not impressed by the argument that a dog should be mutilated solely for cosmetic reasons and to make grooming easier.” In other words, consultation or no consultation, his decision had already been taken.

Predictably, perhaps, the substantial weight of pro-docking sentiment expressed by supporters of the CDB made no difference to Mr Morley. The hundreds of letters were simply dismissed with a wave of the hand. Any view which was not consistent with his own pre-ordained policy objective was simply ignored.

On 16th October, Mr Morley detailed the results of the consultation, and announced his plans for future legislation in the shape of an animal welfare Bill. Given the vast number of genuine animal welfare issues which there are to be tackled, it was immensely depressing, but perhaps not altogether surprising, that he singled out a ban on docking as one of the objectives of the new Bill.

In his statement he announced that “with the exception of a few specific health reasons, tail docking in dogs has no real benefits for the welfare of the animal. Under the new proposed Bill, I do not believe there will be any place for docking of dogs’ tails for cosmetic reasons. There may be some occasions when tail docking may be necessary for welfare reasons and these should be considered on a case by case basis.” 

In other words, Mr Morley wants a total ban on docking, with as few exceptions as possible. 

The CDB, of course, is taking what action it can to reinforce the pro-docking arguments. We are meeting with DEFRA at the end of this month, when we will have the opportunity of meeting officials and discussing the issues face to face. I believe there is a good chance that some general exceptions can be made in the matter of working dogs, but just what shape those exceptions will be remains to be seen. As yet, DEFRA have made it quite clear that they remain to be convinced of the welfare benefits of docking, even in working gundogs.

Speaking in London 10 days ago, David Pritchard, Head of DEFRA’s Animal Welfare Veterinary Team, said that the veterinary assessment was that the arguments for docking are unsound, though he said that DEFRA was prepared to look at further evidence for the docking of working dogs if it was submitted.

One point that might be made is the inconsistency which lies at the root of the Government’s proposed ban on docking. It has said that it wants its new law to be pre-emptive. Its concern about the current law is that action cannot be taken by the police or animal welfare organisations until an animal is already suffering. The object, it says, behind the new animal welfare legislation, is to enable animal suffering to be prevented before it actually takes place. That of course is exactly what docking dogs’ tails at 48 hours of age is intended to do. 

We now know the Government’s timetable for this proposed Bill. At the start of the new year they will be discussing the matter with the lawyers and then, in the latter part of 2003 they will be publishing a draft Bill. This too will be subject to consultation, so there will be an opportunity for us to make further comment at that stage.

However, it is clear that the actual Bill will be no more than an enabling measure which will allow the Government to introduce specific Orders by secondary legislation. This in itself is alarming, because it means that much of the meat of the legislation will not be subject to the Parliamentary scrutiny it would get if it were part of the primary Bill.

But it will mean that the matter is fast becoming political. And that means that any pressure which can be exerted on MPs and peers, especially Labour MPs and peers, is of the utmost importance. Your help in lobbying your MP over the coming months could be vital.

The Board of the CDB will continue to campaign on behalf of all docked breed owners who wish to retain the option to dock and it will be even more important to insure that all interested parties speak with one voice if we are to enjoy any success.

We shall be announcing further actions which will benefit from your participation over the coming year and trust we can look forward to your 100% support in what could be our final chance to retain the docking option in the UK .

Peter Squires

President CDB