I have an uncle who is a very smart guy. He has a PhD in electrical engineering and a very logical and practical mind. He is also not given to getting overly emotional over certain issues. This is why I was surprised when one time we were talking and he got quite riled over the subject of tail-docking (or just ‘docking’), which is the process of removing (or stunting the growth of) the tail of an animal, very often pet dogs. His suggestion, one which I totally agreed with, was that this practice should henceforth be referred to as “dog-mutilation”. This he suggested, might help to stop it.
The mutilation of dogs and other animals in this fashion has been going on for some time and in some cases there were reasons for it, particularly with working animals (from Wikipedia…)
For example, a large horse used for hauling large loads might have its tail docked to prevent it from becoming entangled in tow ropes or harness; without docking, it could be dangerous to the horse, painful if the tail were tangled, and inconvenient to the owner to tie up the horse’s tail for every use.
The practice is still common in agriculture…
- In the case of domestic pigs, where commercially raised animals are kept in close quarters, tail docking is performed to prevent injury or to prevent animals from chewing or biting each others’ tails.
- Many breeds of sheep have their tails docked to reduce fly strike. Also used for this purpose is Mulesing.
If we consider the case of pet dogs the situation is complicated. It seems to be done basically for cosmetic reasons or to make things easier for the owner. The docking of tails by lay people was banned in the UK in the 90s from July 1993 as it was mostly done by dog breeders. Later, in 2007, it was banned almost completely (so even vets weren’t allowed to do it) except in the case of certain working dogs.
So if it has already been banned, why should I go on talking about it? Well, the truth is that banned or not, it is still going on all the time. A quick walk in the park at dog-walking time will show you that. Maybe people should be stopped and asked “Why have you mutilated your dog?”.
From the website k9obedience.co.uk...
The Department of Companion Animals, Queensland , carried out a detailed study of 50 puppies aged between 3-5 days old undergoing docking. The puppies were Doberman, Rottweilers and Bouviers that traditionally have the tail docked very short and so requires a suture to assist healing. The outcome of the report was as follows:
“All pups appeared distressed by the amputation of the tail. Relatively continuous mild vocalisations during the preparation of the tail turned dramatically to repeated and intense shrieking vocalisations at the moment the tail was docked. The intensity of vocalisations decreased slightly (but was still above the intensity made during preparation of the tail) in the period between amputation and placement of the suture (if appropriate). At the moment of piercing the skin for a suture placement, vocalisations again returned to levels comparable with the amputation. Similar intense vocalisations were noticed when pressure was placed on the suture material as the knot was tied. The average number of shrieks made during the amputation of the tail was 24, (range of 5-23.) The average number of whimpers made during the amputation of the tail was 18, (range of 2 -46.) All pups exhibited some degree of bleeding from the stump following docking.”
When the pups were placed back into their box they stumbled around and made uncoordinated limb movements and whimpered for some time. They had to remain separated from their mother for some time to prevent the mother licking the mutilated pup. The pro-docking organisations claim that the puppy does recover from the procedure so no harm is done. Some puppies however do not recover when the amputation is carried out illegally as the RSPCA discovered when eleven puppies died from shock and blood loss, after having their tails cut off with a Stanley knife.
The pro-docking lobby claim that puppies aged between 3-5 days old do not feel pain because their nervous systems and sensory organs are immature. This view lacks credibility especially as evidence given to the House of Commons Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2004 by an expert from University of Birmingham Centre for Biomedical Ethics said:
“Very young animals are likely to feel more pain than older animals.”
Studies have proved that cutting the tail tip of mice increases sensitivity to pain in later life, an effect known as hyperalgesia. In fact puppies do feel pain and sensitivity to pain for many months after docking. Rarely mentioned is the fact that tail docking can have far reaching health issues. Due to the relationship between muscles in the dog’s tail and the pelvic area, docking can affect muscle function around the rectum and pelvis thereby carrying a risk of faecal incontinence, acquired urinary incontinence and hernias. The tail is an extension of the dog’s spine including various muscles and tendons . An example of this is the rectococcygeus muscle on the hind wall of the dog’s rear, near to the anus. This muscle is attached to the base of the tail as well and supports the anal canal and rectum along with the Levator ani muscle. These two muscles also assist in movement of the tail and when the dog has a bowel motion. Docking the tail must obviously affect these muscles, a fact that is backed by studies showing that breeds such as the Boxer have a predisposition to perineal hernia.
The RSPCA (for non UK people RSPCA – Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals) had this to say...
Those in favour of docking often suggest the procedure is done to prevent tail damage in gundogs and working dogs, yet no one can predict that a dog will ever injure its tail severely enough to warrant an amputation. There can also never be a guarantee that a puppy will become a gundog, so an exemption would be unenforceable and would make no sense from an animal welfare point of view.
“There is no evidence that some dogs have more sensitive tails or are more prone to damaging their tails than others,” said the RSPCA’s chief veterinary adviser, Tim Miles. “This simple fact demolishes the argument that some ‘working’ breeds, such as spaniels and pointers, should still have their tails amputated as puppies, when the accepted ethical view is that other breeds’ tails should no longer be docked.”
According to a scientific study in Denmark (1996), out of 76,000 dogs seen in 10 clinics in one year, there were 26 with tail injuries (0.037 per cent). Based on this robust evidence, even if the pro-dockers are right and there is a 20 per cent increase in tail injuries following a docking ban (which is doubtful), tail injuries would rise from under 0.037 per cent to 0.044 per cent. Leaving 99.95 per cent of dogs with healthy, happy, uninjured tails.
So there you have it, in the majority of cases it is dog-mutilation and not “docking”. And to reiterate, I am saying all this because one way or another many dogs are still being mutilated for purely cosmetic reasons of for the sake of convenience and if vets aren’t doing it then someone somewhere is. It should stop.