Gamekeepers call for end to dog tail docking ban

Exceptions for working dogs such as these terriers were agreed in other areas of the UK. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Exceptions for working dogs such as these terriers were agreed in other areas of the UK. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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SCOTS gamekeepers are calling on an end to the ban on docking of working dogs’ tails.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is urging the government to “stop procrastinating” over tail docking, with a leading vet claiming the ban should overturned.

TV vet Neil McIntosh had never witnessed spaniel tail injuries in his west coast practice until tail docking was outlawed in Scotland in 2006.

Now he believes the law should be overturned, solely for working dogs, because of the distress adult animals endure when their tails must be amputated due to damage.

Although tail docking is now illegal across the UK, Scotland is the only country which did not draft exemptions for working dogs.

Breeds such as spaniels, retrievers and terriers work instinctively in dense cover and are susceptible to tail damage.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has campaigned that failing to exempt these dogs seriously compromises animal welfare.

A spokesman said that, despite being given assurances last November that science to review the ban would be available ‘in weeks’, nothing has been done.

Mr McIntosh said: “From a pro-veterinary point of view, I would rather dock 100 working puppies’ tails at three days old than one adult working dog.

“Since the ban came into place, I’ve seen a large number of Spaniels, including police dogs, requiring tail amputations. Prior to the ban, I didn’t see any.”

Before 2006, many working dogs had their tails legally shortened at three days’ old, a minor operation which protected them against injury in adult life.

That can still be done in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not Scotland.

Mr McIntosh said: “Done properly at 3 days’ old, it is literally a quick snip.

“For an adult working dog, it is different. It requires anaesthesia, incision, ligation of bleeding vessels and suturing.

“You have to bandage the tail repeatedly for a week then remove the suture in the knowledge that breakdown of the wound is possible again. It is very distressing.”

Fiona Humphries, Small Animal Clinical Director at Fair City Vet Group, has undertaken tail amputations of adult dogs for medical reasons as part of her work.

She also has a seven year old Sprocker called Potter - not a working dog - who has required many courses of antibiotics and painkillers for an injury to the tip of his tail.

Her experience, both as a vet and pet owner, has given Fiona a rounded understanding of the issue.

Regardless of the breed, she said the docking of the tail of a pup by a vet at three days’ old is much less distressing than the surgery to remove part of the tail of an adult dog.

“When the ban first took effect, I welcomed it. In the light of experience, I now have a slightly different opinion.

“It is not a black and white issue. A percentage of the dogs we have seen with tail injuries have not been solely working dogs. Dogs, for example, that are ‘waggy tailed’ dogs, and not necessarily working dogs, will get tail injuries.

“However, I think the wording of the legislation in England is sensible and I think it is positive that people have a choice.

“When there is no choice, people are made to feel like criminals and it can be the same with vets. It puts vets in an awkward position because, if taking a tail off is the right thing to do, other people can still be very opinionated about it.”

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said it is now time the Scottish Government acted.

“We were told seven months ago by the government that peer-reviewed science on this would be ready in weeks. As this process stutters to a halt working dogs across Scotland are suffering excruciatingly painful injuries.

“People are angry. In Northern Ireland, England and Wales they obviously had evidence to exempt working dogs. What is different about Scottish dogs?”

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