CHAIRMAN’S REPORT, CDB AGM 23 NOVEMBER 1997

"The Council of Docked Breeds should give itself a pat on the back and the thousands of breeders who are still able to find a vet prepared to dock their puppies should show their appreciation". This is how Dog World commented on the announcement this week that the RCVS has all but admitted defeat, in its efforts to ban docking by the back door. The article ends "There is no room for complacency, and we have no doubt that the CDB having effectively won this battle, will be doing its best to ensure that the long-term war is not lost".

The purpose of the Chairman’s Report is to summarise events over the past twelve months, to enable you our members, to judge how well you believe us to be performing. We hope you come to the same conclusion as Dog World.

November 1996 then is a good place to start. Just to remind those of you who may have forgotten, our AGM last year began very badly. We had the unpleasant task of ejecting over a dozen "Animal Rights" type people from the meeting room. Not a good start and to be honest, it was an experience that effected me personally, throughout the rest of the day.

November ended badly, with a BBC programme "Here and Now" taking a scathing look at tail docking. It was unfortunate that breeders outside of the CDB offered their help in fielding participants who whilst pro-docking, would not have been our choice if we had of been involved earlier. The experience we have built up over the past six years puts us in the best position of knowing which television programmes to be involved in and who will best present our case. We have spent considerable time and money exploring the best way of presenting the case for docking and this programme did us no favours. A point we must reiterate then, is if you hear of any media interest in docking, please contact the CDB immediately and let us handle the media directly. It is much easier that attempting to launch a damage limitation exercise after an event has gone wrong.

In addition, during November, Elliott Morley, who at the time was Labour spokesman on animal welfare, tabled a question in the House concerning tail docking. The Government (Conservative at the time) answered that there were no plans to commission research into non-veterinary docking. This question was not known to us immediately, which highlighted the fact that our Parliamentary intelligence was not 100%. Shortly after, we appointed a Parliamentary Monitoring Agency to keep us better informed and we still retain their service.

During December 96 we were involved in a Carlton television programme, "Thursday Night Live", with Nicky Campbell. The animal rights campaigners in the audience were highly vocal to say the least, egged on by the very biased presenters. We had the opportunity to field our own supporters, but unfortunately, not the chance to finish many sentences. We managed to keep our cool though-out, which at least gave us a higher degree of credibility than our foul-mouthed opponents.

The year then, did not end on a high note from the media point of view, so 1997 itself, could only improve.

January came and went with little excitement apart from a speech by Elliot Morley MP outlining Labours view on Companion Animals. Concerning docking, he wrote: "Labour welcomed the requirement in1993 that tail docking should only be carried out by veterinary surgeons. We also welcomed the position of the RCVS that tail docking and ear docking should only be carried out for veterinary and not cosmetic reasons.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that there has been resistance to this by some breeders who believe that docking should be carried out for cosmetic reasons. The arguments for such mutilations, apart for sound veterinary reasons are unconvincing. We look to the Kennel Club and other associations to set a lead on this. Labour expects breeders and vets to co-operate with the RCVS to discontinue this practice. We will be prepared to take action to make it illegal if this does not happen".

February started exceptionally well, as Donna McDougall formally accepted the position of CDB Veterinary Advisor. Many thought that Steve Dean was going to be a hard act to follow, Donna has proved that none of us are indispensable!

In February, our Treasurer Lynne Smith started investigating the VAT Act 1994 in the hope of gaining an exemption for us. It appeared that if we could persuade HM Customs and Excise that we were formed primarily to make representations to Government on particular legislation, then any subscriptions would not fall within the scope of VAT.

With the possibility of the General Election being only a few months away we started organising our election campaign. A plan was put before the Board, incorporating an attack on the European Convention for Pet Animals, which was passed unanimously. It was not going to be cheap, it was going to involve a lot of work, it was a chance that only occurred every five years so could not be missed.

Because the European Convention also affected so many other breeds, we had the opportunity to interest most breeders, owners and dog lovers. Crufts then, was to be the obvious launch pad for our campaign.

"European treaty threatening cats and dogs" was the headline in The Times, during Crufts week and almost every other daily followed suit. "The Council of Docked Breeds is calling on individual MP’s to set out their position on the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals before the General election" it reported.

How did we hope to achieve that? We had sent out over ten thousand letters to all current and past members, telling them individually, who their Prospective Parliamentary Candidates were, with their full contact addresses and enclosed leaflets on the Convention, asking members to write to said PPC’s to establish how they would vote.

We swamped Crufts with similar literature and we were generally very pleased with the response we received from the non-docked breeds, who helped by distributing a further ten thousand packs.

The media coverage was astounding, perhaps our best to date. In addition to the major nationals, the canine press and the sporting press, many of the regional papers also reported the issue and even newspapers in Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Canada and the United States of America published the story.

It is unlikely that any Prospective Parliamentary Candidate escaped seeing our literature. Many replied to their constituents, at a time when they were all desperate to please. Even if the answers were not always what we wanted to hear, at least Prospective Parliamentary Candidates found out about the docking issue, were forced to discuss it, and the CDB’s name would not be easily forgotten.

The following week, in the House of Commons, Mr Gordon Prentice asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what regulations govern the tail docking of dogs and if he would make a statement.

One person in particular will hopefully remember the words he uttered that week. One Tony Blair MP, appeared on that cosy chat show "Good Morning with Richard & Judy" on the sixth March. The programme invited strictly non-political members of the public to telephone, with no embarrassing questions. No chance for CDB members then, or was there. Our resourceful Ann-Marie Esposito from the frozen North took a chance, dialled the number and got through!

Ann Marie:- "I’d like to ask Mr Blair if he has any family pets….and does he know that the Council of Europe is threatening 107 breeds"?

Richard:- "Don’t get political on us Ann, this is a personal one"

Judy:- "Oh, she slipped that one in"!

Tony Blair:-"No we don’t. I grew up with pets, and we grew up in the country when I was a kid with a Golden Retriever that the family was very fond of.

I think there’s a problem in the City, I think with pets

I do believe particularly that I am away a lot of the time and very busy and Cherie’s very busy. The kids have been quite keen on getting a dog. I think unless you can give the time to it its not a good thing to do".

Judy:-"What was she saying there...Ann…What was she saying about the Council of Europe"?

Richard:-"Oh, alright, go on Ann, very naughty, but go on"

Tony Blair-"its to do with some regulations they…………"

Ann-Marie:-"The Council of Europe actually, are threatening with extinction, 107 dog breeds and a few breeds of cat".

Richard:-" Are they, but why"?

Ann-Marie:-"For all sorts of silly reasons…a lot of pet people won’t be allowed to have their pets".

Richard:-"Alright, OK, do you know about this"?

Tony Blair:-"I know a bit about it, just what I read in the papers, but its not very clear either that its actually going to happen, and it doesn’t sound a very good idea, so lets try to make sure that it doesn’t see the light of day

Richard:-" Fair enough"

Top marks to Ann Marie for her ingenuity, I hope the future proves that we can award our Prime Minister full marks for honesty and integrity!

On the same day, an Early Day Motion was put to the House as follows:

Mr Harry Greenway, Mr Tony Banks, Mr Robert Parry and Mr Nicholas Winterton wrote, That this House deplores the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals calling for a ban on many long-term and well established canine characteristics which, if successful, would lead to the outlawing of the splendid British Bulldog and other fine breeds such as St Bernards, several breeds of terrier and some types of Corgi; notwithstanding the fact that 11 European states have already signed the treaty, calls upon the Government not to sign this disgraceful convention under any circumstances. End Quote. Not exactly grasping our breeds too well, but their hearts were in the right place. Twelve more MP’s signed this motion in the following weeks. Not a landslide, but further proof that our campaign was being effective.

On March 17 1997 – The Prime Minister John Major, ended the agony of waiting by firing the starting gun on the longest General Election campaign this century. It was to be May 1st.

Throughout April, we kept up the pressure and countless more articles were written in the canine and sporting papers predominantly, but the majors also continued to cover the issue. Full-page adverts were repeated in the popular canine publications.

On 15th April, the Labour Party unleashed Fitz the Bulldog as its latest election weapon. Their choice of breed could not have suited us better. It was another chance for the CDB media machine to swing into action and we were not slow to do so. The fact that the Bulldog was at risk from the very Convention that Elliot Morley previously promised a Labour administration would sign, made front page news in virtually all the papers again, thanks to our efforts.

The result of May 1st 1997 is history. The expected Labour landslide happened, so did the CDB lose? We are not a political group, we are a lobbying group, and all the indications are that we did a good job in the run up to the election. You might have read that of those Labour MP’s who responded to our members, only 34% supported the Convention, 13% supported the retention of the option to dock and a massive 53% expressed no view on the matter, indicating that our members still have some educating to carry out on their new MP’s.

Voting for the RCVS Council also took place in early May. In last place, but voted onto the Council, was a young vet Mark Richer, who only graduated in 1993. He vowed not that he would do his best to end docking, he has promised that he will end docking in this Country. Brave words, we hope that eventually he will be forced to eat them.

Two weeks after the General Election, we were again in the news for inviting Dr Yves Lecocq, the Secretary General of Brussels based FACE, over to London to discuss the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. Speaking at the Farmers Club to guests from the Kennel Club, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the British Field Sports Society, Dr Lecocq urged all of us to continue to lobby Parliament not to sign the Convention or at the very least to enter a reservation to allow tail docking to continue. The Kennel Club agreed that of course they would continue to do just that. They also intimated that we would probably be allowed a stand at the next Crufts. Just a few months later, they turned down our application for a stand at Crufts 1998.

On May 24, Walter Beswick of the RCVS fame, married Diane Sinclair, Assistant Registrar (Legal) of the RCVS. Obviously, a marriage made in heaven.

Unlike the previous four months when the CDB was barely out of the news, June 1997 was not a remarkable month. The only major occurrence was the interview Peter Davies of the RSPCA gave Nick Mayes of Our Dogs. You might remember that during this interview, Mr Davies assured us that all his employees were angels, especially those who called upon the public, to partake in a cup of tea and a cosy chat about their docked puppies. You were all no doubt reassured to read this fairy tale.

In July 1997, came the welcome news from Her Majesties Customs and Excise. They confirmed that from information gleaned from our Constitution, as a non-profit making lobbying organisation, the income in respect of subscriptions is considered exempt for VAT purposes. Our treasurer Lynne Smith breathed a huge sigh of relief as the burden of completing VAT forms was too unbearable to contemplate.

Throughout the summer months, the CDB took its roadshow out to the public. We still feel that Game Fairs are where our attendance is needed most, as the show folk are well aware of our existence by now. We did however enjoy two beautiful days at the Bournemouth Championship Show and would like to thank all members who dropped in to say hello.

Our other means of communicating to the public is of course our web site on the Internet. Now over two years old, it continues to attract between 300 and 500 visitors a week who between them manage to read over 1000 pages of information on an average day.

About 5% of people who visit our site reside in the UK, the remainder come from all over the world. The wonders of this communication breakthrough continue to help others. Whilst we were able to post information out to New Zealand breeders when their Parliament started looking at the possibility of banning docking, breeders were also able to download a plethora of information from our site. Using email, they were able to send us page upon page of draft presentations for us to comment on or amend, and the whole return process was completed within a matter of minutes. You may be interested to learn that they recently formed an organisation called The New Zealand Council of Docked Breeds, and that they based their constitution on ours.

Our Helpline has continued to operate throughout the year with no signs of easing off yet. It would appear that whatever we do to advertise our existence, there remains to be some breeders who do not find out about the docking issue until the day their litter is born.

As you have seen from our accounts, income was 5% down on last year, and expenditure was 8% up. The increase in expenditure is almost solely attributable to the very successful General Election campaign. If it were not for the printing and postage costs incurred, our total expenditure would have been reduced this year.

Despite the deposits shown in our accounts, we shall not let any form of complacency creep in. We have to manage our reserves diligently, to ensure that we remain in a position of strength whenever expensive legal support is required. We shall not let monetary considerations cloud our judgement on who we should back, we would just rightly prefer to remain self-funding and to avoid calling in pledges from supporting clubs unless absolutely forced to do so.

Throughout the year the RCVS continued to coerce vets into ceasing to dock, until just two weeks ago, when they issued this statement, following a meeting of their Council on November 6th;

The RCVS Preliminary Investigation Committee has recently decided not to refer to the Disciplinary Committee two cases in which it was alleged that a veterinary surgeon had docked puppies tails for reasons that were neither therapeutic nor prophylactic.

Any case referred to the Disciplinary Committee which may result in a veterinary surgeon losing his/her right to practise, must be proved beyond reasonable doubt – the same standard of proof as is required in a criminal case.

In any docking case, therefore, it must be established beyond all reasonable doubt that there was no therapeutic or prophylactic justification. It is also necessary to demonstrate that the docking was repeated or routine and not an isolated incident. This usually requires the co-operation of clients or owners. In neither of the two cases recently considered, were the owners prepared to provide the necessary evidence.

The Preliminary Investigation Committee has taken legal advice and, after full consideration of the issues, has had to conclude that even though one of the acts of docking was shown on television, the absence of other evidence was such that the cases were unlikely to be successful before the Disciplinary Committee".

A small victory then for ourselves and all docking vets. The statement however added; "The RCVS further points out that the veterinary profession has asked the Government to introduce primary legislation to ban the cosmetic removal of dogs tails in the United Kingdom. It says that it will continue to press the Government to sign the European Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals which specifically prohibits the docking of tails along with other surgical operations for the purpose of modifying the appearance of a pet animal".

Not an unexpected statement in the circumstances and one which we had already taken steps to counter.

Our friends the RSPCA should also be drooping their heads in shame this weekend.

Magistrates in Llanelli heard on Friday, that Mrs Deborah Jones had docked the tails of her litter of Cocker Spaniel puppies. Mrs Jones pleaded guilty to the charge, under the 1954 Veterinary Surgeons Act, of performing veterinary surgery whilst unregistered. However the RSPCA, who brought the prosecution, alleged in addition that the tail docking was a cruel act and therefore in breach of the 1911 Protection of Animals Act.

After hearing evidence from our Veterinary Advisor Donna McDougall and Chris Tonkyn, the court decided that the docking which Mrs Jones had performed was not in itself cruel, and dismissed the charge.

Naturally, we were very pleased with the courts decision. We do not condone docking by non-veterinarians, but it must be made quite clear that, provided it is properly carried out, the act of docking itself does not constitute cruelty. The court supported that view.

The RSPCA must have been perfectly well aware that their allegations of cruelty flew in the face both of accepted veterinary opinion, and of the evidence in this case. This was an ill-judged prosecution brought not on merit but on grounds of ideology, and the RSPCA richly deserved to lose. If nothing else, perhaps one day they will realise that after six years of campaigning, we have not only built up a wealth of information supporting the case for docking, but we have also built up a network of specialists who know the case intimately and can defend our case passionately.

I would like summarise the past year as another

  • where the CDB has again continued to help breeders get virtually every whelp docked,
  • where the CDB has again increased the number of known docking vets,
  • where the CDB has again helped vets approached by the RCVS for docking whelps,
  • where the CDB has again helped breeders approached by the RSPCA for no good reason
  • where the CDB has again handsomely controlled income and expenditure,
  • where the CDB has again managed to remain one step ahead of our opponents,

We have however a new Government in place, one which before the election, could not be considered to be sympathetic to our campaign.

May I remind you that before the election, Elliot Morley stated that "Labour expects breeders and vets to co-operate with the RCVS to discontinue this practice. We will be prepared to take action to make it illegal if this does not happen".

Just over a month ago, at the British Veterinary Association congress, John Bower asked the Minister, if the Government was prepared to introduce legislation banning docking. Mr Morley replied that "the Government would prefer to see breeders, The Kennel Club and veterinarians dealing with the issue on a voluntary basis. The legislation already stated that dogs should not have their tails docked unless it was for a veterinary reason. The answer therefore lay in the hands of the veterinary profession. However, if progress failed to be made, perhaps the Government would look at the issue again", said Mr Morley.

Not exactly the categorical denunciation of docking that the profession was hoping to hear, especially when they were about to concede to their own failure to ban docking by the back door.

Could it be that our efforts around the time of the General Election are paying off?

In response to this statement, we thought it prudent to make our first official approach to this Government via Elliot Morley and a letter suggesting that we meet, was despatched at the beginning of November.

That concludes an outline of our efforts over the past twelve months, we have no reason to believe that we shall become less busy as we enter the next political phase.

We hope you can confirm your support for the fashion in which we manage this campaign.

Sunday 23 November 1997