Tail docking battle lines drawn

By ANNE BESTON

A breeder who has docked tails of five-month-old dogs and a veterinarian patching up a pup mutilated by a home docking job personify opposing views in the tail docking debate.

Now that submissions have closed on the Animal Welfare (Restriction on Docking of Dogs' Tails) Bill, pro-docking and anti-docking advocates are marshalling forces to do battle before a parliamentary select committee.

A measure of the divisiveness of this debate is that 30 veterinarians in favour of tail docking will make secret submissions to that committee, afraid of speaking out, they say, when their national organisation, the New Zealand Veterinary Association, supports the bill.

The Herald also received an anonymous email from one breeder opposed to tail docking who would not be named for fear her access to top stud dogs would be affected.

Breeders, the New Zealand Kennel Club and some veterinarians want the right to dock retained.

They argue the procedure has been carried out since the Middle Ages, that it is done for tail health and that the docking is painless for pups just a few days old.

Docking opponents, including the New Zealand Veterinary Association and the SPCA, say the reasons for docking are all cosmetic, that it is painful and unnecessary.

Waikato schnauzer breeder Rose Elle says breeders will continue docking, law or no law.

"It will be done underhandedly because vets won't be able to do it," she said. "Every breeder I know will fight tooth and nail to keep docking."

A breeder for more than 20 years, Ms Elle imports pedigree lines from overseas and has docked tails of five-month-old dogs that arrived here with tails intact.

Auckland SPCA veterinarian Jodi Salinsky argues docking is cruel.

"They can say what they like, but it hurts," she said.

When the Herald phoned, Ms Salinsky, president of the Auckland Veterinarian Society, was patching up the tail of an eight-week-old pup after a botched home tail docking job.

"I see something like this at least once a month," she said.

By outlawing tail docking, people who don't know what they are doing can be prosecuted for cutting off a dog's tail, something not possible currently, Ms Salinsky says.

New Zealand Veterinary Association chief executive Murray Gibb is not concerned that 30 vets from his association have broken ranks on the issue. He accuses a pro-docking lobby group, the Council for Docked Breeds, of "driving a wedge" on the issue.

He cites a Colmar Brunton poll last month that found 68 per cent of New Zealanders favoured outlawing docking. Eighteen per cent disagreed and 14 per cent didn't know.

Council for Docked Breeds chair Karen McIntyre believes parliamentary support for Labour MP Dianne Yates' bill is "finely balanced".

"I think we've got a good enough argument to win," she said.

"There is no scientific evidence to ban docking. [Opponents] are running a campaign on emotive issues."

But Upper Hutt breeder Kate Winter - who has bred springer spaniels, a traditionally docked breed, for a decade - backs the bill.

"I will not dock. If people want a docked dog they can go somewhere else."

Of the 184 breeds recognised by the NZ Kennel Club, 57 are traditionally docked.

DOCKING DEBATE

* Puppies are usually docked at around three days.

* Most breeders dock their own pups through "banding", cutting off the blood supply so the tail drops off in about three days.

* Veterinarians tend to favour cutting the tail off, usually followed by cauterising and a stitch.

* Both veterinarians and breeders carry out docking but anyone could theoretically dock a dog's tail.

* Under a proposed law, tails would still be docked for health reasons.

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