RCVS Disciplinary Hearing
Clears Docking Vet

The first UK veterinary surgeon to face disciplinary action for docking puppies tails was cleared of all charges of disgraceful professional conduct on Friday 8 September, 1995.

Marshall Dale, of Hockley Essex, was alleged to have performed the procedure on at least six occasions for cosmetic reasons, in breach of a code of conduct laid down by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Mr Dale, a practising vet for 26 years, acknowledged docking Yorkshire Terrier, Old English Sheepdogs and Giant Schnauzer puppies at his surgery, but said it was for legitimate welfare reasons.

The four day hearing was the first since the college, which sets professional standards, issued a code of conduct in 1993, aimed at banning the procedure except in restricted circumstances.

Mr Dale faced nine charges of disgraceful professional conduct and could have been struck off the professional register. After the hearing, Mr Dale said that he felt "delighted. This has been hanging over me for six months and it has been a terrible strain for my family. I don't think I would have felt worse if I had been accused of murder". Mr Dale added that the hearing had failed to resolve the confusion surrounding the ethics of docking. "It has been left to the grass root vets to sort out, which is not satisfactory".

Simon Wheatley, Mr Dales Council accused the college of bringing the case because of political expediency. "The issue had been ducked by the Government and the College, so it now falls to the individual vet to resolve an issue which is seen as so important, but which has been handled politically so maladroitly" Mr Wheatley said that Mr Dale had docked only for acceptable prophylactic reasons. The Yorkshire Terriers for instance, belonged to a breeder who mainly sold dogs to older women. "It is a fact of life that ladies of high reputation do not think it appropriate to concern themselves with the rear end of the Yorkshire Terrier", he said. "There is therefore, a high risk of them suffering problems connected with soreness and fouling".

Simon Wheatley also explained why Marshal Dale docked the Schnauzer. "This is a very small numerical breed. Mr Dale went through his books and read up and tried to find out the size of the breed. He learned how the breed had long thin sparsely coated tails like the Irish Wolfhounds. He deduced that there was a possibility of injury, like the Irish Wolfhound. He explained how he has had two Wolfhounds in his practice who had to be docked because of tail end splitting. They are very hard to heal and eventually had to be docked as adults. Can he be deemed to be wrong"?

James Badenoch, QC. for the college had argued that docking was performed only for reasons of tradition. "Tail docking belongs to history. Breeders will have to realise that the tail belongs to the dog", he said.

The defence costs which were in excess of £25,000.00, were covered by the Council of Docked Breeds from their Legal Fighting Fund.