CHAIRMAN'S REPORT, AGM NOVEMBER 1993
I would like to start by briefly mentioning events running up to November 1992, to help paint the full picture. I shall then outline our activities over the past twelve months, and conclude with the current situation and advise how members can become more actively involved.
On its inception, the CDB felt that our predecessors the Council FOR Docked Breeds, had been misled into accepting a compromise which on the surface looked liked safeguarding the future of docking, but as we now know, the RCVS had other plans.
The CDBs energy at the beginning, was concentrated mainly on Government Departments. It was important that politicians and the Home Office were made aware of our discontent at the cavalier attitude adopted to our case. Firstly in the way in which breeders were not fully consulted at the preparation stage of the bill to amend the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, and secondly, the manner in which the Bill was sneaked through Parliament. We soon realised however, that the likelihood of a court action against the Government was remote and looking to the past. We had to look to the future.
The CDB met the 1992 President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and at his request submitted a report to the council of RCVS prior to the committee meeting which was to consider the issue. We also circulated a video to the home of each member of the committee, showing a litter of puppies being docked in the nest with their dam, showing NO painful reaction from either pups or mum. Our video clearly refuted those who claimed it to be a PAINFUL procedure.
The CDB heightened awareness of the RCVS proposals through the dog press, radio and television. The RCVS were forced to seek counsel before making a final decision. We firmly believe that if the CDB had not bought the issue into the public arena, the RCVS would have made docking prima facie evidence of disgraceful conduct, which would have effectively brought docking to an end.
Let us remind ourselves, who we are in competition with. The RCVS and the RSPCA. Two very powerful, very wealthy, very highly respected, organisations with huge public support (deservedly or otherwise). Our competitors have an army of salaried staff working full time on their behalf and either employ or can afford to hire the very best professional advice whenever it is needed. Early on this year, the CDB engaged the services of a Public Relations company, John Kendal Associates, in order to raise our profile.
We divided our objectives into four main categories:
- -To maintain the right of Veterinary Surgeons to continue docking the tails of traditionally docked breeds, to encourage as many as possible to do so and to support those vets who do.
- -To promote the future introduction of a docking register of suitably experienced breeders who would be listed as qualified persons within the appropriate legislation.
- -To ensure that all owners / breeders of traditionally docked breeds understand the complete case for docking, to encourage them to join the CDB and actively participate in the campaign.
- -To improve public understanding of the need for tail docking.
Our public relations agency agreed that to win this campaign, the voices of all docked breed owners must be as one. Supporters need to use the same carefully thought out "sales pitch" when dealing with politicians, the media and veterinarians. The Case For Docking leaflet was therefore produced to encompass our case, for all supporters to use without deviation or emphasise on their own breeds or preferred methods, to ensure our message does not get fragmented or diluted. A media campaign was organised to coincide with the 1 July 1993 news hook.
The CDB carried out a survey of breeders at Crufts this year, in an attempt to raise breeder awareness. However, more accurate information concerning vets was needed to spearhead a professional media campaign. A direct survey of vets was achieved by means of a reply paid questionnaire, circulated in a veterinary journal. It resulted in the return of over 1100 replies. The results closely reflected those of the BSAVA's own survey some 15 months earlier, indicating that nearly 10% of vets would carry on docking and another 15% only needed further encouragement to do so.
This had to be the main message to get across, so that pro-docking vets did not feel isolated and others would be encouraged to carry on docking. To make the most of the July news hook, a selection of our delegates underwent a media training course to enable the presentation of our case to be projected with as much professionalism and clarity as possible.
A gathering of at least one from each of the docked breeds was organised to rally in Parliament Square on the 30 June 1993, to heighten media interest and the rally gained much coverage on television. A well attended press conference was held the same day resulting in substantial reports in the more acceptable press.
Our contributions to radio and television debates throughout July, helped ensure that pro-docking vets realised they were not alone and helped make the general public more aware of the dilemma we are facing. It is interesting to note, that we were the front runners in this media exposure. No other organisation was prepared, no other organisation had planned an assault on the media apart from the RSPCA, who spent many thousands of pounds in newspaper advertisements, yet fell down badly on both television and the radio. It was the CDB who were pulling the strings and our opponents were caught off guard and unprepared.
We followed the media coverage with a direct mail shot to every veterinary surgery in the UK, sending a copy of the Case For Docking pamphlet along with a letter from our veterinary advisor, Steve Dean.
The CDB has continued the pressure ever since, by producing leaflets encouraging breeders to debate the issue with their vets, originating publicity campaigns both in the dog press and where possible the veterinary press. We have increased the level of awareness which the profession would have preferred to see swept under the carpet.
Many regional meetings have been held throughout the past two years to help enlist new members and to keep current members abreast of the latest news. Many Breed Clubs have continued to play their part by advertising our existence and by continually mentioning our progress in Year Books, Newsletters, and at their shows and meetings.
Throughout 1993, we have been encouraging breeders to canvass the opinions of their local vets and to transform indifferent vets into supporters. Breeders need to establish that their vet will dock or that they have access to one who will, before planning any litter. We are of course aware, that whilst the membership of the CDB has always been predominantly from the exhibiting fraternity, an equal number of breeders if not more, are involved in field sports activities. The CDB has already held meetings with field sports groups and more meetings will be arranged which we hope will unite us.
The CDB continues to need an income in excess of the money raised by membership fees. Individual breeders, clubs and our delegates, have continued to hold raffles, exemption shows and sponsored events to keep us solvent. As I hope you are aware, the major lottery we launched earlier on in the year is to be drawn today and I hope that at least some of the winners may be in our audience, as you are of course amongst our staunchest supporters.
Cash flow does however continue to be an ever present concern. You may care to note from our accounts published today, that our expenditure over the past twelve months has exceeded our income. Although this concept seems acceptable if you are running the United Kingdom plc, it does not make good reading for a council such as ours. We would hope that you will raise the question of support yet again, at all the Docked Breed Club AGM's which are about to be held. Please don't leave it to chance, raise the question of financial support, yourselves.
During the past two years, the CDB has advertised in the canine press to attract new members. The response to our pleas for membership was less than overwhelming during the first eighteen months. However, since I July 1993 when membership suddenly offered the possibility of easy access to vets who dock, many breeders who had not made their own arrangements applied to join and membership numbers have escalated. Over 1400 new members have telephoned our secretaries in the four months since 1 July.
The majority had a litter born or about to be born, but no vet arranged to carry out the docking. That is an average of over ten calls per day, seven days per week. Each call takes over three quarters of an hour to process. The legal position has to be explained, prompt payment into our bank account has to be arranged, then checked, paperwork has to be completed and posted, and a vet nearest to their locality tracked down. This amounts to a minimum working day of seven and a half hours, seven days a week.
The strain on our secretaries voluntary unpaid work is substantial to put it mildly, but to date, only four breeders requesting our assistance, have not been able to get their litters docked. These urgent requests for membership and details of vets continue, displaying many breeders reluctance to put much effort into self help.
The geographical spread of vets continuing to dock remains somewhat patchy. There are Counties with many vets still docking and others with barely any. It is not surprising that the areas with many pro-docking vets coincides with the greatest activity from our members. Breeders who for the past year were prepared to canvass their vets, debate the issue and explain our case, are now in a far better position than those breeders who thought they could leave the task to someone else. Those breeders who were prepared to be actively involved, are now reaping the benefits.
The fact that traditionally docked breeds continue to be docked legally since the 1 July, has of course enraged the RSPCA. Members of the public are under the misapprehension that this distinguished charity was formed to safeguard the welfare of animals. I have no doubt that many of its officers in its junior ranks still uphold this morality. It is unfortunate that within its higher echelons lurk individuals who are portraying themselves as headline grabbing, money grabbing, politically minded activists who from past experience, probably couldn't tell you the difference between a Pitbull terrier and a goldfish.
Obstinate to the end and despite the fact that they have no hope of finding a litter of puppies not docked by a vet, they have been harassing our members, masquerading as the defenders of our canine friends. What the RSPCA hope to gain is publicity.
What they are getting more often than not, is a polite request to go forth and multiply. The CDB is encouraging members to report to us all visits. Where obnoxious or deceitful tactics are employed by RSPCA personnel, and with prior permission, we shall publicise such cases.
We should all be aware that the RSPCA is a charity with NO authority or special powers. You are not obliged to answer their questions, nor let them onto your property. You need not even answer the door to them. Only the police have such powers and the police are as keen to become involved in the docking issue, as Ronnie Biggs is, to re-sample England's fine weather and comfortable prisons. The resolve of the RSPCA is not however going to be easily beaten. We are of the opinion that they will attempt to initiate several prosecutions and we have to be prepared to defend such action with the best legal help available.
It is imperative that we win every case.
We recently approached an insurance broker to investigate the cost of legal indemnity insurance for our members. They stated that a pool of between £200,000 and £300,000 would be required to defend likely prosecutions. Individual breeders would have to pay between £60 and £70 per annum for cover. Few would be interested at those rates, but if we had 30,000 members, the figure may be reduced to nearer £10 per annum. We need your assistance to persuade more breeders to become members of the CDB.
A prosecution by the RSPCA could be brought against a CDB member at any time, or the RCVS may attempt to discipline a vet for continuing to dock. We must be in a position to be able to support either scenario with the best defence possible. The cost of insurance is currently beyond our reach so we are about to ask breed clubs to pledge at least £1000 each, so we can be assured that a proper defence is possible. We need your support by ensuring that clubs you belong to raise the issue at AGMs.
Where are we today? The most important fact is that traditionally docked breed litters continue to be docked. But at what cost? The actions of the RSPCA are discrediting their organisation but more disturbingly, members of the veterinary profession are doing likewise.
Many vets are antagonising breeders and new clients arriving with docked puppies for their first inoculations. Some vets have reported breeders to the RSPCA. Many vets have told untruths either in ignorance or intended. Many vets have lectured our members in a menacing way. Whether they like it or not, the anti-docking vets are going to have to accept that neither breeders, nor the puppy buying public, are going to be bullied into submission. We should exercise our right to channel our business towards those vets who support us. Unethical behaviour from vets will only serve to strengthen our resolve.
What of the future? Our immediate aim was to keep as many vets docking as possible and whilst there remains room for improvement, we are currently enjoying success. The ultimate aim is to introduce our proposed Register of Docking Practitioners. Parliament has not yet been able to evaluate the effect of their recent amendment to the Veterinary Surgeons Act regarding docking and will not be receptive to examining further changes for at least 12 to 18 months. There will only be one opportunity to introduce our proposals, so perfect timing is vital. In the meantime it is of utmost importance that traditionally docked breeds are seen docked in our rings, in field sports and under the ownership of the general public. In this we are succeeding. This situation must continue to enable the CDB to declare that ALL are united.
We shall shortly be asking you our members to play a major role in making sure we win this campaign. Our plan is outlined in a new leaflet called the Guide to Lobbying which will be included in an Action Pack which will be circulated to all members in the New Year. Our recent survey proved that for every two vets that continue to dock, there are three more who with a little persuasion may resume docking.
If no one contacts vets direct, they will believe there is no call for docking, shrug their shoulders and think that us breeders have given up the fight. The CDB can write to them, but unless vets receive a stream of personal visits from breeders, they may simply remain sitting on the fence.
We also need the RCVS and politicians to know how much discontent exists among breeders. If they never hear complaints, they will be under the impression that everything in the garden is rosy.
Please don't think that the idea of visiting a strange vet and talking to him/her about docking will be a frightening experience. You were all once brave enough to take a dog into the ring for the first time. Now, you do it without with authority and without thinking. You were possibly petrified the first time, now its like falling off a log. Please take the time to follow our advice, most of you will even enjoy the experience.
We also want you our members to discuss the campaign and RSPCA activities with fellow breeders. It appears that no matter how much we publicise advice on how to handle the RSPCA or the correct course of action to take before mating a bitch, misunderstandings frequently occur. You must spread the word as we are in danger of alienating many of the pro-docking vets unless breeders plan the docking of their litter even before a mating takes place.
This Action Pack and its distribution will cost in the region of £4000.00. Later on we shall be asking your permission to increase membership fees to help finance this.
In conclusion, we would ask you to cast your minds back to the days when the Council FOR Docked Breeds were attempting to address the docking issue:
Too many breeders, ignored the warning signs, ignored the press reports, ignored the chance of becoming involved.
We missed the golden opportunity of nipping this problem in the bud. We are now suffering from the compromise which was all they could have accepted in the circumstances.
Our opponents next aim is the total abolition of docking.
ALL breeders and owners of docked dogs must be united and active in our campaign.
With your 100% support and involvement, we are BOUND to succeed in our goal, to be able to Carry On Docking.