CHAIRMAN'S REPORT, CDB AGM, NOVEMBER 1996

It is my pleasure today, to outline the activities of the CDB over the past twelve months. It has been a year in which we have not been involved in a single RSPCA court case, nor has a single veterinary surgeon been disciplined by the RCVS. It has been a year in which we have not made banner headlines whatsoever. All has been quiet you may think? Not so. Behind the scenes, the CDB has continued to encourage more and more veterinary surgeons to assist our members by docking their litters, and our helpline has put many new members in touch with such vets. We have continued to monitor the actions of the RSPCA and have helped a significant number of breeders tackle unwelcome approaches from their inspectors. Our media training has again been put to good use on a number of occasions and our Public Relations consultant has ensured that we have taken advantage of all possible publicity opportunities. We have continued to ensure that the money supply is sufficient to keep our reserves at an acceptable level. We have been busy too, making plans for the next twelve months which is likely to be the most important phase of our campaign.

The Veterinary Scene

Whilst we remain unconvinced that the potential number of docking vets has yet been achieved, the number of docking vets has continued to increase over the past year. We possess details of virtually all vets in the UK and they are written to on a regular basis. Not a week goes by without at least 50 letters being sent, which thankfully still encourage replies from docking vets who have not previously come to our attention. It’s the dripping tap effect. Vets now know that if they don’t reply to our letters, another one is sure to turn up! Several vets have turned to the CDB for advice over the past twelve months, after receiving notification from the RCVS threatening them with the possibility of disciplinary action in connection with tail docking. The involvement of our legal officer Sally Leslie has resulted in the RCVS backing off in each instance, to the immense relief of the vets concerned.

The RCVS working party on docking produced its report a year ago, and we greeted it with disappointment. It was a flimsy report which simply reiterated hoary old quotations and padded them out with unrepresentative public opinion surveys which made no pretence at objectivity. We concluded that it was unlikely to clarify the issue for the working vet. Indeed it did not. The RCVS revised guidelines which followed on from the report were vague and unclear, and after taking legal opinion on them, the CDB sent out a note to all our veterinary colleagues outlining what we think the guidelines will mean in practice. Whilst the Statute Book allows vets to dock, we believe that there is precious little that the RCVS can do to end docking. Their prime aim is to get legislation changed, and the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, is the ideal vehicle for this.

The RSPCA

Like the RCVS, the RSPCA have been on the prowl again, with a greatly increased number of visits to members reported. In our opinion the action by the RSPCA amounts to a sustained campaign of harassment, and we have said as much in the press. We stand ready, as always, to assist with the defence of those members who are unjustly threatened with legal action by the RSPCA. Many members have telephoned at theirs wits end after receiving an unwarranted visit, but after counselling, have felt better armed to tell the so called inspectors, where to go. Despite all the visits to our members in the past year, none has resulted in court action.

The Help Line

We have all thought that our helpline would eventually become redundant, the larger our membership became, and the more the public understood the problem in finding a docking vet. The helpline however, is as busy now as it has ever been. On one particular day last month, 12 emergency applications for membership were processed before midday alone. We receive on average 20 calls per day, but not all calls are simply for new membership. People telephone if they are experiencing problems with the RSPCA or vets, or to report tail damage, or to ask questions about export or even whelping. Students, newspapers, TV and radio producers contact us wanting information, along with canine clubs from home and abroad. We are even approached by owners of long tailed pups who purchased them allegedly with the breeder wrongly stating that the CDB can get older pups docked.

We get abusive calls, calls where the callers number is withheld, calls which we are convinced come from the local mental institution and even coded messages have been left on the Help-Line answer-phone. We are so used to strange requests that we are no longer even surprised when callers expect us to jump in a car and race round to their home that instant, to dock their pups ourselves. We are yet to be approached for financial or personal advice, but I guess that’s not far away either. We are fortunate to have a dedicated team of helpline workers, and I am pleased to say that the occasional letter, card or call is received, thanking them for their efforts.

The Media

The past year has again been a busy one for the CDB in the public relations field, and I would like to start by looking at developments in Europe. During the latter part of 1995 there were persistent rumours that the German Pointer club, together with the Swedish Kennel Club were about to overturn the docking ban in Sweden, as a result of the serious increase in tail injuries which had occurred amongst working pointers in that country. In a 3 month investigation, 58 out of 117 pointers were found to have sustained tail injuries. However, in April of this year, it became clear that the plans to overturn the docking ban had failed, and that the Board of Agriculture had rejected the pointer owners plea. Around the same time, the Finns also decided to implement a docking ban. Officials claimed that under the Council of Europe Convention, any reversal of the docking ban was impossible. The CDB was active in informing the UK press of developments in Scandinavia, and took the opportunity of pointing out to sporting dog owners the threat of European anti-docking legislation and the speed with which it could spread.

During the year we took that message out strongly to the working gundog fraternity. In April the CDB had a stand at the Shooting Times Gundog Weekend at Abbeystead in Lancashire, one of the country’s premier gundog working tests. Everyone we spoke to was pro-docking, and if there was an anti on the site, then we didn’t encounter one. The campaign was taken to a new and largely untapped audience, and several new members were signed up. In addition, the support we got from the British Association of Shooting and Conservation was very welcome. Also in April we attended a Working Gundog evening in Essex organised by the British Field Sports Society, and then later on in the summer we spent two days at the Midland Game Fair in Staffordshire. Positioned within the BASC gundog area, we spoke to literally hundreds of gundog enthusiasts and signed up 14 new members. The attendance at working gundog events was a big success and will be repeated and hopefully expanded next year, provided sufficient volunteers can be recruited to help man the caravans.

The CDB was well prepared for Crufts this year. We took the opportunity of conducting a survey at Manchester Ch Show, and found that of 1475 dogs exhibited in 24 docked breeds, only 9 animals carried full tails. This information was broadcast in the run-up to Crufts, and we were not surprised to find that the number of tailed specimens there was equally minuscule. More importantly, we were able to congratulate three CDB members - Tricia Bentley who won BIS with her cocker and Mary Swash and Gladys Coxall, breeder/handler and owner respectively of the Reserve BIS an Airedale. If there was one regret at Crufts this year it was that, despite a series of meetings and promises, the Kennel Club again declined to allow us a presence there. At least we now know where we stand on the matter, and breed clubs will be invited to carry CDB information in 1997.

Our presence in the press strengthened during 1996, with a string of articles on the docking issue aimed at all sections of the dog world. Sporting Guns gundog special published a feature on tail docking, graphically illustrating the problems of tail injury, the new monthly magazine Gundogs published a similar piece, and this months Dogs Monthly also carries a docking article. All were written and submitted by the CDB. These magazines and our friends at Dog World and Our Dogs carried an updated and re-vamped series of recruitment advertisements, which have helped to carry the CDB membership message forward during the year.

There has also been continued interest in docking from TV and radio. Perhaps the most bizarre episode was the publicity surrounding the Canine Rear of the Year competition, promoted by Beverley Cuddy on Channel 4s The Big Breakfast. This was billed as the first ever show for undocked dogs. We were invited to take part in a debate with Ms Cuddy on the show, in fact they pleaded with us to participate, but we knew better and allowed Ms Cuddy to make a fool of herself alone. The judging was carried out by Cuddy, together with those well-known experts in canine matters Rodney Marsh and Bert, and winner Pauline Baines and her un-bobtail Jezebel were played out by the Eclipse steel orchestra.

A further spate of publicity surrounded the decision by ICI Paints to choose a new Dulux dog. Inevitably the issue of docking arose, and the CDB has fought a determined campaign, backed up with the total support of the OES breeders. The final outcome is still undecided, but the publicity resulted in a TV debate in London, attended by CDB representatives and supporters, and a further feature on BBC TV's Here and Now programme, our contribution to which was recorded last week. This programme will be broadcast next Wednesday evening at 7.30 on BBC1. In addition, the CDB took part in many radio debates on docking around the country, as a result of the Dulux affair.

On a cautionary note, I would like to reiterate that any member approached by the media for information concerning docking vets, should point the media in our direction. It was perhaps unfortunate that the Here and Now programme makers were given the details of a docking vet in Scotland by a breed club secretary who is not even a CDB member. He was breaking the common courtesy of confidentiality by doing so. The CDB is best placed to organise the media as not only can we arrange contact with vets who are happy to be filmed, we can ensure that they will portray the procedure in the best possible light.

Our World Wide Web Site remains on the Internet and has been upgraded several times during the year, to keep it to the forefront of available technology. Our presence there is viewed by animal lovers the world over and many lively docking debates have arisen in the canine newsgroups. A certain Ms Cuddy joined the CompuServe newsgroup for a short period, but left just as quickly, no doubt upset that she could gain so little support for her antidocking views. The beauty of the Internet letter pages is that no one can edit or suppress individual correspondence, so the true balance of public opinion is very evident.

Funding

As you will hear shortly, income from new members has increased, but donations decreased over the past year. Legal fees increased as we settled the RCVS case expenses and the payments to Helpline workers agreed last year came into effect. We still managed a net surplus for the year in excess of £9000, by careful control of expenses. The manner in which our treasurer administers the accounts is admirable, and has enabled us to recommend that membership subscription fees remain unchanged at the current level, for the fourth year running.

The Council of Europe

The CDB is a member of FACE UK, the UK branch of the European field sports association, and attends their meetings. Being a member of FACE is we believe, an excellent avenue of communication with our European colleagues. We also plan to host our own meeting for FACE representatives in the coming few months. It was the CDB which discovered and publicised the dangers that the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals presents to most breeds.

As you know, it’s latest amendment strengthens their resolve to speed the cessation of docking, the removal of dew claws, and seeks to restrict or ban, the breeding of many of today’s much loved dog breeds. In 1992, the Council of Europe had just 27 member states, of which only 7 had signed and ratified the convention. Today, there are 39 member states, and still only 11 have signed and ratified the convention, 5 of those 11, having entered a reservation on docking. So after 9 years, only 6 member states have been misguided enough not to enter a reservation on tail docking. The current UK Parliament has not signed or ratified the Convention, but this is unlikely to remain the case if there is a change of Government at the next general election.

The Next Twelve Months

I begun my report by mentioning the fact that it has been a year in which we have not been involved in a single RSPCA court case, nor has a single veterinary surgeon been disciplined for docking by the RCVS. It has been a year where we have not made banner headlines whatsoever. Some might be lulled into a false sense of security by this, the CDB is not. The opposition have not been pursuing us with their usual vigour, so we ought to reflect on why they are relatively quiet? The most likely explanation is that they probably believe that there will be a change of government at the General Election, which will result in the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals being signed a short while afterwards. This would bring with it the eventual introduction of a total UK ban on tail docking, so why should they waste any funds or exert any energy fighting us, when they have almost won?

The CDB has already begun preparing itself for the most important stage in our campaign. If you think that our attempts to convert the veterinary profession to our point of view has been difficult, you ain't seen nothing yet. We believe that the future of tail docking will shortly be decided by politicians in the next Government. We have seen the agenda of the Liberal Democrats, and Labour is about to publish a new animal welfare policy paper shortly. It is very likely that many of the issues which have remained dormant under the present Government will be explored and reactivated under the next one, all under the grand banner of animal welfare.

The CDB is not a party political organisation and has no desire to become so. We must, without delay, begin to educate prospective members of parliament from all major parties, about the dangers which lay behind signing this convention. The CDB can write to each prospective member of parliament, but they receive so many similar letters from other organisations, that the impact of us writing will be minimal. Voters from their prospective constituencies have far more chance of grabbing their attention, and this is where our members can offer their most important contribution to date.

We desperately need each and everyone of our members, to take this campaign to their own prospective members of parliament even before the general election is announced. CDB members need to write to, or arrange a meeting with their local politicians before electioneering gets under way. Opposition parties have so called animal welfare policies which don’t look good for us, it is up to each and everyone of our members to help reverse the desire of those politicians who suggest that we sign the convention. If the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals is signed and ratified by the UK, then we will be looking defeat in the eyes. If it is signed, it will not be just the traditionally docked breeds which will suffer. Those breeds which currently have their dew claws removed will suffer, along with the breeds which according to the convention have ears which are too long, legs which are too short, or mouths which allegedly render it impossible for them to raise their young.

We are currently in the process of obtaining details of every Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for each of the major Parties broken down into constituencies. This will enable us to distribute a Pre Election Action Pack to each and every CDB member, giving them contact details for their local Prospective Parliamentary Candidates along with a suggested course of action, including a draft letter. If they sit back and leave the work to others I guarantee that docking will be banned within a few years of a new Government. If all breeders get involved now and ensure that future members of parliament are made aware of our point of view, we have some hope of them adopting a more practical approach to the convention. Ignore this plea for help in the run up to the election at your peril. Be warned, we are likely to be the seventh member state to sign and ratify this convention in full. We would then be looking at a future where everyone breeds a Euro Dog, or nothing.

The delegates and executives of the CDB will continue to offer help and advice, but the future of traditionally docked breeds now lays firmly in the hands of every breeder and dog owner in the country.