Monday, August 16, 2010

New Zealand Puppy Tail Docking Decision (Tail Wags Dog?)

In New Zealand, animal welfare issues are general considered by a ministerial advisory committee called the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).  The Code of Welfare relating to dogs was recently revised, and in the associated report mention is made of receiving only one oral (rather than written) report--from the Council of Docked Breeds (pg. 3).  This makes it easy to wonder whether balanced consideration was given to the issue of puppy tail docking before before conluding that puppies less than four days old do not feel pain:

"there was no available evidence to suggest that tail banding of puppies according to current recommended best practice ... caused pain or distress to puppies." (pg. 7)

What is astounding about this is that even the strongest supporters of tail docking, the New Zealand Kennel Club, state:

"It is accepted that the procedure may inflict a degree of discomfort"

While it would seem possible to argue that pain was fleeting and not severe, the suggestion that tail amputation involves no pain, and that lack of evidence should lead to the conclusion of a lack of pain, frankly dismays me.  NAWAC's own report includes the existing studies that suggest that some degree of pain is anatomically likely and behavioral indicated--or at the very least that the issue is not settled--and that there is at least a risk of more serious health consequences after docking.  And across many nations and organisations the tendency has been to give the animal the benefit of any doubt.

NAWAC also noted that as the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) does not allow their members to perform tail docking ("The NZVA opposes the prophylactic and cosmetic docking of dogs’ tails, and supports docking for medical or surgical reasons only"), requiring that it be carried out by a veterinarian was a proxy ban on the procedure.  Their response to this situation was to allow puppy tail amputation to be carried out by non-veterinarians.  Cosmetic tail docking with a band may now be carried out by:

"...a person who possesses the appropriate knowledge, training and competency necessary to do so effectively, and who is acting under a documented quality assurance scheme that assures compliance with this minimum standard"

And who will manage this tail dockers accreditation scheme?  The New Zealand Kennel Club.  I would note that to apply to the scheme one needs to supply "a reference from a veterinarian".  One might assume that the NZVA policy would include not supplying such a reference?  Although, of course, long standing members of the Kennel Club with a history of doing their own docking are exempt from this requirement.

I can, with some effort, see why NAWAC did not want to ban the procedure, but I am astounded that they went as far as they did to actively enable it.  Sometimes the best response to a lack of clear scientific evidence is to not act and let the vested interests work it out on their own, rather than to pick a side based on who last whispered into your ear. (Yes, that last comment is less than fair given NAWAC's use of science and track record, but why did they not hear an anti-docking oral presentation?  Any number of organisations would have been happy to provide one.)

See also:
Tail docking of puppies mythology
Group rolls over on tail docking


  1. ADA is based in UK and although visiting NZ during the lengthy period of consultation no request was made for oral submissions. Two repeat written submissions were made.
    The latest UK Veterinary study done after the complicated UK ban was in force has found that 500 dogs would need to be docked to prevent one injury (it did not allude to the fact that amputating the tail in the first place is injuring the dog and causing unnecessary suffering. Injuries it was found were not sustained necessarily "at work" but more likely (logically)in confined conditions and also to undocked breeds. Spaniels seemed to be more at risk but no attention in the past has been given to breeding for tail length, carriage or set. There are breeders breeding Spaniels which have less gyratory movement. Another study carried out recently on gun dogs indicated that lameness was more evident than tail injury. This begs the facetious question - remove the legs at birth?

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