President’s speech at AGM – 21 November 1999

The Council of Docked Breeds was set up in order to campaign for the maintenance of the rights of breeders of our customarily docked breeds to continue to have their litters lawfully docked by supportive veterinary surgeons. One of the charges regularly levelled against docking is that of cruelty, and this is a charge which we are particularly keen to refute. The CDB is therefore on constant vigilance to ensure that any charges of cruelty, wherever they are made, are properly answered. 

You may remember that in 1997 the CDB had charges of cruelty thrown out in a case at Llanelli magistrates court concerning docking by a person who was not a veterinary surgeon. Our objective was to prove that docking, when properly carried out, was not cruel. Inevitably the cruelty debate has rumbled on, and this year the matter again came before a court, this time in Macclesfield, where two people were accused of causing unnecessary suffering to boxer puppies. The case itself was an unfortunate one in many respects, but I am pleased to report that again, the magistrates concerned dismissed charges of cruelty.  Indeed, costs were awarded to one of the ladies concerned, and Counsel for the defence was very critical of the actions of the RSPCA officers who investigated the case.

Again, it has been indicated in court that docking has no case to answer in respect of cruelty.

The distorted media coverage which surrounded the Macclesfield case, however, was of concern to us. It made no mention of any defence criticism of the RSPCA and rode on a tide which, it seems to me, is out to demonstrate that the RSPCA can do no wrong. Anti-docking tendencies in the media have manifested themselves in other ways too. A number of local newspapers have been reported to us by members for their policy of not accepting advertisements for puppies which state that those puppies have been docked. Naturally we have contacted the advertising managers concerned and pointed out to them that there is nothing unlawful about docking. However, we are constrained by the fact that it is the right of the publishers of a newspaper to refuse to accept advertising from whoever they wish. Although we are told by the RSPCA that it has no national policy of asking local media to refuse advertising for docked dogs, it seems a strong likelihood that local RSPCA branches have been instrumental in advancing such bans. I urge every CDB member to be on the lookout for this and to let us know immediately about any instances of it occurring again.

I have in the past reported in detail on matters in Europe which affect us. The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals remains a great worry, and one which we continue to take very seriously. As members of the European lobbying group FACE we have kept a close watch on events in Europe during this year, and we have kept in touch with what has been happening at Westminster too, where in March the House of Lords spokesman for the Government, Lord Williams of Mostyn said that “No decision has been made as to whether the UK should accede to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. The Government are not intending to commence a review of the matter before next year.” Naturally, the CDB stands ready to assist the Government in any review which it undertakes.

In Europe, however, the political climate has altered considerably during 1999. The socialist majority in the European Parliament has been replaced by one which leans to the right of centre, and which appears more sensible over matters concerning animal husbandry and tradition. The outcome of the European elections this year has given at least some cause for hope, and we have friends among those who were returned to Brussels and Strasbourg. Equally, things have not been good in Norway , which had decided to end the system of dispensations for docked dogs entering the country for exhibition purposes.

If the objectives of the Council of Europe are to foster pluralistic democracy in Europe, to search for solutions to the principal problems facing society and to foster consciousness of a European cultural identity, then I can only wonder where the banning of tail docking in dogs fits in with its grand plan.

CDB has been active in its membership services over the past year. At the beginning of the year we produced a leaflet advertising the various sales items which we launched last year, and this is now being sent out with all membership renewals. We again took the CDB caravan to the Game Fair at Harewood House near Leeds, and to the Midland Game Fair at Weston Park in Staffordshire. The CDB internet site has been updated and greatly improved, while the helpline continues to offer assistance to thousands of callers throughout the year.  To cope with the ever increasing administrative burden, three new computers were purchased this year, to streamline the Secretarial, Treasury and Helpline operations.  My thanks go to all those who have ensured that the CDB’s services to members have been able to continue so smoothly and professionally and to Graham our Public Relations Advisor who continues to ensure that the media is handled to best effect.

Even six years after the law on docking changed in this country, docking remains overwhelmingly popular amongst breeders of pedigree dogs. An example of this was Crufts last year, where out of 5,483 dogs shown in the classes for customarily docked breeds, just 31 animals were shown with full tails. In the terrier classes 13 dogs out of 859 were undocked, while in the gundogs it was 3 out of 2,057. Only 1 out of 672 utility dogs was shown with a full tail.

That must call into question the need for a standard for tails in the customarily docked breeds which has been called for by the Kennel Club from breed societies.

The Council of Docked Breeds is based upon freedom of choice. Just as we defend the freedom of breeders and owners of customarily docked breeds to have their litters legally docked, so we do not object to those who, if they wish to do so, leave their dogs undocked. Thus we have no objection in principle, to the establishment of a standard for the tail in customarily docked breeds.

We do wonder however, if such a standard is necessary. Many of our judges have successfully judged overseas in countries where docking is prohibited, and they appear to have had no difficulty whatever in properly judging long tailed specimens in those countries. Indeed, Scandinavian states which have maintained a prohibition on docking for several years do not even have a standard for tails, why should we do it for them?  The lack of such a standard has certainly not impaired judges in their work.

If it is simply to accommodate visitors to the UK wishing to exhibit dogs originating from countries which operate a prohibition on docking, that a standard for tails is thought necessary, then we wonder whether visiting exhibitors should not simply be invited to abide by the breed standards in the UK as they are currently established. After all, if British exhibitors travel overseas, they do not expect local standards to be rewritten for their benefit.

In any case, experience shows that the popularity of docked dogs in Britain remains extremely strong. There are but a handful of undocked specimens currently exhibited each year, and it strains credulity to suggest that judges are unable to decide upon the confirmation of such a tiny number without reference to a new standard.

If standards were to be established, we entirely agree that it will require a good deal more than eight months to arrive at the correct formula, especially in breeds where virtually no undocked specimens are currently being bred, let alone exhibited.

We do however, have a deep and underlying concern about this proposal. Our fear is that the establishment of standards for tails may lead to the rewriting of breed standards in total. For example, the action and movement of a dog with a long tail will, in some cases, be completely different to that of a docked dog of the same breed.  It would be a travesty of justice were the standards of the docked breeds be altered to accommodate the undocked minority. Indeed, we believe it would be nothing less than a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Just as we will defend the rights of those who wish to have their litters docked, so we will defend their right to show docked dogs under the long established and time honoured standards of their individual breeds. If standards for tails were to militate against our traditional docked breeds in the show ring, then we are sure it would not surprise you to find us totally opposed to them.

Finally, while I am speaking of Crufts and the Kennel Club, I would like to mention two things. Firstly, our warmest congratulations to Donna MacDougall, who until recently was the CDB’s veterinary adviser, for her magnificent success at Crufts this year, where she took Best of Breed in the English Pointer class with her Sh Ch Adstock Jacobite. Well done Donna.

Secondly, we have lobbied long and hard for the CDB to be offered a stand at Crufts. Our presence there has been rejected for several years, but we have continued to discuss the matter with the Crufts authorities, and while it is too early to give you any firm news here today, I am hoping very much that in a matter of weeks we will be in a position to make an announcement regarding Crufts 2000.

Two very valuable members of the Board have stepped down this year due to personal commitments. The first was Len Anness, who had admirably filled the position of Chairman and more recently Donna MacDougall who had been our veterinary advisor for many years. 

Unfortunately, Donna is unable to be here today, but we wish her well in her continued career and would like to thank her for her commitment during the period which she assisted us. We have some valuable memories of her interviews with the media in which she took no hostages.  Like Steve Dean before her, Donna will be sadly missed and moves are currently in hand to replace her.

Len Anness is another figure well known in the dog world whose regular contribution will be sorely missed. I say regular contribution because as you can see, we have not lost Len all together and his presence here today indicates that whilst he can no longer manage to remain a regular member of our Board, I am sure that Len will never be far away should we desperately need his able assistance.

Len became a delegate at the inaugural meeting of the CDB and probably did more than anybody else in gaining our acceptance and respect at the Kennel Club in those early days.  Not by shouting and hollering, but by gentle and persistent persuasion at every opportunity he got when either in Clarges Street himself, or when he could corner another unsuspecting Kennel Club member out in the field.

I was reading the Miniature Schnauzer Standard yesterday and much of it describes Len to a tee! Temperament; alert, reliable and intelligent.  Sturdily built, robust, expression keen and attitude alert. Len has never missed a trick in eloquently putting forward the views of the CDB and I am sure that although he is no longer on the Board, Len will continue to support our aims in every way possible.

That brings to an end my report for the past year. The campaign is far from over and the intentions of the present government concerning animal welfare are far from clear. Suffice it to say that we shall continue our vigilance by watching legislative, RSPCA and veterinary proposals throughout the coming year to ensure that our voice is heard and that the freedom of choice is maintained.

Peter Squires