CHAIRMAN'S REPORT, CDB AGM, NOVEMBER 1994
The Council of Docked Breeds was born, just a little over three years ago. There were just over 100 people present at our first November meeting here, but from small acorns, grow mighty oak trees. Membership now exceeds 7000 and an average of 60 per week continue to join.
Our initial objective was to campaign for the retention of the docking option, but we now offer a service far in excess of our original intentions. It is my pleasure today, to outline the activities of the CDB over the past twelve months. I will mention the contribution from both members and docked breed clubs and I will conclude with our forecast for the near future.
To help you determine the effectiveness of the Council, I would like to remind you of our four stated aims, and to examine each one in turn:
Firstly, - To maintain the right of Veterinary Surgeons to continue docking, to encourage as many as possible to do so and to support those vets who do.
This is perhaps the most important aim of all. The effort put into encouraging new vets to dock and supporting those who do so, has continued over the past year with good results.
Scarcely a week goes by without us hearing about, or us communicating with, another vet who is considering taking up docking again. We remain tactful in our approach to such vets and the reassurance we offer, i.e. the confidentiality that our members promise, more often than not results in the vet gaining the necessary confidence. We have to appreciate the position many of these vets are working under. It is not unusual to hear that just one vet in a practise is prepared to help, but that his partners are vehemently opposed and would report him to the RCVS given the chance. As no doubt Steve Dean will tell you shortly, the RCVS has been reluctant to investigate those vets who continue docking, but the very effective threat remains. We have to continue protecting all docking vets with the anonymity they deserve and we have to remain in a financial position which enables us to offer legal representation to any docking vet who is investigated by the RCVS.
Connecting members with their nearest docking vet through our help-line has continued over the past 12 months, and the number of requests, show no sign of decreasing. The helpline is manned five days per week by Ginette Elliott, Ann-Marie Esposito and Anne Moore, on a rota system. This remains a most time consuming task, as most callers require counselling to some degree, but the number of thank-you letters received, does help make the burden of always being available, more palatable. Of the 2700 breeders joining in the past twelve months, around 800 required express membership to urgently gain details of a docking vet. In all but a few cases, we were able to introduce these breeders to a docking vet at very short notice.
If we had not managed to encourage the continuation of docking by vets, then under current legislation, we would have failed miserably. Whilst we are far from convinced that the potential number of docking vets has yet been achieved, the number known to us is sufficient to give encouragement.
Another measure of our success may be that the RCVS is about to form a working party to advise on where the college goes from here. Steve Dean will discuss this more fully, but we have to wonder if they are not just a little surprised by the ineffectiveness of their educational programme which was meant to enlighten breeders to the delights of damaged long tails? In the unlikely event of their not seeking the views of the CDB membership, I am sure we shall be pleased to arrange another letter campaign to assist their working party come to the proper conclusion.
Our second objective is "To ensure that all owners and breeders of traditionally docked breeds understand the complete case for docking, to encourage them to join the CDB and actively participate in the campaign".
In our formative years we concentrated our recruitment efforts in the direction of show breeders. In the past twelve months we have swung our attention to the working fraternity, who prior to 1 July 1993, generally thought themselves exempt from the problem we all face.
I wouldn't mind a pound for each time a working dog owner has told us that the legislation only affects show people and how he knows that his vet is allowed to dock all working dogs. Many still contact our helpline with incredulity, at having been turned away by their own vet.
In an attempt to coach the working fraternity into joining us, we have spent in the region of £4,000 advertising mainly in the Working Dog publications over the past twelve months. This is money well spent, because not only has it vastly increased membership from this sector, it has helped ensure that they also are able to get their pups docked legally, that they appreciate that it is an issue in which we need to be united and as a spin off, these advertisements are read by many influential people, who may also in the past have been blissfully unaware of the reality we face.
We have continued to keep members abreast of developments, through columns in Dog World and Our Dogs, and press releases are also mirrored in the working dog publications. Each and every new member receives a copy of the Action Pack we launched at the AGM last year, which hopefully they read and find of immense use.
It is perhaps worth noting, that the few breeders joining with a litter already born, who we were unable to introduce to a docking vet, are the few who criticise us in the dog press. It would sadly appear, that no matter how much publicity we generate, there remains a number of inconsiderate breeders who make no attempt to support us until they have produced a litter, then complain if we are unable to wave our magic wand and produce a docking vet on their doorstep, in an instant.
By the steps we continue to take, we believe that we are doing our best to ensure that owners and breeders of traditionally docked breeds understand the complete case for docking, are encouraged to join the CDB and to actively participate in the campaign. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you cant make it drink!
Our third aim is "To improve public understanding of the need for tail docking". If we enjoyed an unlimited advertising budget, we could mount a major advertising campaign, just like the RSPCA. As we do not enjoy the same multi million pound income, we have to rely in the main on our members spreading the word. We still take every opportunity to expound the virtues of our campaign whenever a media opening appears, and have in the past twelve months appeared on many television programmes, with more planned. Because sectors of the media love blood and gore, we have to be especially selective as to where we attempt to appear. It is natural for the media to initially believe the propaganda emanating from the RSPCA or the RCVS, who are supposed to be pillars of virtue, but guided by John Kendal Associates, our public relations company, we have managed to avoid the many pitfalls surrounding the less respected journals and television programmes.
Our confidence in appearing in such debates, has been greatly enhanced by the media training our delegates underwent last year. We believe that with the help of our Public Relations company, we are managing to persuade the media to accept our point of view and that the public watching programmes in which we participate, are generally sympathetic towards our aims.
Our final stated aim is "To promote the future introduction of a docking register of suitably experienced breeders who would be listed as qualified persons within the appropriate legislation".
This is obviously the most complex of all our aims, and also the pivotal objective for the future. As I have mentioned before, legislative change cannot be expected overnight and perfect timing is crucial, but we have already begun to lay down its foundations.
We have continued to hold meetings with parliamentarians, but the advice we are given is that the current legislative programme is too busy to hear proposals from either the CDB, or our opponents.
We continue however to forge links with parliamentary lobbyists, who are best suited to keep their ears to the ground, thus limiting the possibility of our opponents being able to slip any legislative changes through undetected.
You may have noticed from examining our accounts, that we have neither offered money to M.P.s to ask questions in the House, nor have we entertained any ministers in high class Parisian hotels. Perhaps that was a Major mistake?
One final previously unwritten aim, is our desire to be in a financial position, which will enable us to consider defending any member wrongly prosecuted by the RSPCA in connection with docking.
The RSPCA heralded the 1 July 1993 amendment as a victory, and made it plain that they would launch a witch-hunt against docked puppy breeders. They have plagued the doorsteps of many of our members over the past fifteen months, hoping to gain ill- gotten publicity to further swell their coffers. You will hear a little later, from one victim of RSPCA persecution and from her valiant defender. Provided that our funds and the money pledged by docked breed clubs remains sufficient, we shall not hesitate to investigate wrongful prosecutions brought against any of our members, and defend them through the courts.
In addition to the members we have successfully defended over the past twelve months, there have been around 100 who after being visited by the RSPCA, then telephoned us asking for advice. Counselling such members requires careful attention, due to the trauma a visit from the RSPCA can induce. Each members case is followed up to ensure they are able to handle the RSPCA correctly, and regular contact made until they finally cease calling.
We are convinced that the RSPCA now becomes very wary the minute anyone mentions those three magic letters, CDB, and that persecution of our members has recently sunk to an all time low. We cannot become complacent however, and must be fully prepared, should the onslaught return.
The RSPCA are not the only cause of trauma. Members have been surprised at the unethical stance some veterinary surgeons have taken when presented with docked puppies after many years of taking our members money. Some vets have threatened to report clients to the RSPCA, others have in fact done so. We now assist members put in such a position, by writing to the RCVS ourselves and prepare letters of complaint for the member to sign and personally send to the RCVS, demanding an investigation. Fire, has to be fought by fire. The RCVS may hope that the docking issue is being won, we have to remind them just which side is winning.
That virtually concludes my report concerning the activities of the CDB ourselves, but what have our members and their clubs contributed.
Our Action Pack asks members to canvass the opinions of their local vets and to attempt to transform indifferent vets into supporters. Included in the Action Pack is a form to be returned to ourselves with the results of their efforts. The number of forms being returned with veterinary information is frankly disappointing.
Our 1993 survey showed 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 these vets direct, they may believe there is no call for additional docking vets, shrug their shoulders and think that breeders have given up the fight. The CDB can write to them, but unless these vets receive a stream of personal visits from breeders, they may simply remain sitting on the fence.
We still need members, both old and new, to keep the pressure on the veterinary profession, to ensure that they realise that this problem will not simply go away!
At the last AGM, I voiced a concern that our cash flow continued to be an ever present anxiety. The increased fee for new membership agreed last November has been received well, even by those requiring emergency membership. You may care to note from our accounts, that the £11.00 excess for emergency assistance is separated from membership subscription, and goes into our fighting fund.
Our income over the past twelve months has increased substantially and is no longer exceeded by our expenditure. We shall not become complacent in this knowledge however, and will continue to spend your money with prudence and encourage further income to a level which at the very minimum, continues to cover expenses. Because of our current financial stability, we are able to recommend that subscription fees remain unchanged at the current level.
We are often asked how docked breed clubs have responded to our appeals for an amount of money to be pledged and held on our behalf, which we would only call on, in the event that our own funds become unable to cover any defence of members wrongfully prosecuted by the RSPCA or vets by the RCVS, in connection with docking.
The response to two letters addressed to club secretaries remains mystifying. Of the 223 clubs approached, one third have totally ignored both letters without even the courtesy of a reply. Perhaps I am wrong to display indignation at this apparent lack of interest by certain club secretaries, but knowing how hard our own board members and executives work on behalf of this campaign, I feel we are justified to at least expect an answer to our letters after ten months, no matter how negative the reply may be?
On the positive side however, those clubs who have responded favourably, have pledged over £35,000 an average of around £500.00 per club, to help out should the need arise. The lowest pledge is for £25.00 and the highest £5000.00. No matter how high or low, each pledge has been acknowledged with our sincere thanks. We are of the opinion that the RSPCA may still attempt to initiate more 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.
To conclude, the resolve of our opponents is not going to be easily beaten. The most important fact is that traditionally docked breed litters, can continue to be docked, should their owners desire it. The RSPCA appear to have diminished their initial campaign of pestering docked breed owners, or is it just a temporary cease fire? Whichever, we are well prepared.
Working dog owners are joining our campaign in greater numbers than ever before, the media are well aware of our existence and our aims.
Observers are keeping an eagle eye open on our behalf for possible Parliamentary approaches by the opposition, and groundwork is being carried out to pave the way for our proposed Register of Docking Practitioners.
Our opponents aim, remains to be the total abolition of docking.
With a membership fast approaching 10,000, the CDB is in the strongest position ever to frustrate their attempts and to fulfil its objectives. With our increased income and expenditure, we have to shape ourselves in such a way that we can continue to offer value for money and ensure that the service we offer, remains at the same high level. We shall therefore regularly examine our own structure, to ensure that we are best organised to meet your aspirations.
I trust we continue to have your full backing and support for the manner in which we are proceeding