Barking mad? Controversial tail-docking measure passed by Scottish Parliament 

SNP and Tories reverse tail-docking ban for working dogs

A POLICY REVERSING the ban on tail-shortening of working dogs has faced criticism from animal welfare groups after a majority in the Scottish Parliament passed changes to the law. 

Since 2007 there has been a full-ban on tail-docking - the cutting of a dog’s tail by its owner without anaesthetic. Previously used by owners of ‘working dogs’ - for instance on Scotland’s shooting estates - the practice has been condemned as “cruel”.

However, with the support of SNP, Tory and Liberal MSPs the full-ban has now been owner turned, allowing dog owners to shorten tails for specific breeds and with the consent of a vet. Nine SNP MSPs abstained in the vote, and one, Christine Grahame, voted against tail-docking. 

The Scottish Greens described the move as “callous”, while Scottish Labour said it was the return of a “barbaric practice”.

The justification given for tail-docking is that it reduces the pain and suffering of working dogs in relation to possible future injuries in the course of activities in working environments, where longer tails could be broken or seriously injured. But animal welfare groups and veterinary expert questioned whether inflicting painful docking on young puppies was proportionate to this risk. 

The votes of the SNP, Conservative Party, and four LibDem MSPs was enough to pass the change by 86 votes, with 29 against, and nine abstentions. 

Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “Vets and animal welfare charities warned that this would be a retrograde step for Scotland, but callous SNP and Tory MSPs have endorsed this cruel and unnecessary practice. The painful docking of hundreds of puppies' tails just to avoid one amputation in an adult dog is anti-science and nothing more than a sop to vested interests.”

Scottish Labour’s animal welfare spokesperson David Stewart MSP said: “The SNP and the Tories have today joined forces to bring back the barbaric practice of tail docking in Scotland. Tail docking or shortening involves the cutting through or the crushing of skin, muscles, up to seven pairs of nerves, bone and cartilage in puppies under five days old - without anaesthetic.

“This horrific process has no place in a civilised society and was banned by the last Labour government. This is a very disappointing backwards step and Scottish Labour will always fight to protect dogs from this brutal treatment.”

Animal welfare group OneKind and the Dogs Trust both condemned the move. 

SNP MSP Christine Grahame called on colleagues to back the advice of “BVA Scotland, animal welfare organisations throughout Scotland and 70 per cent of the public opposing exemptions to the ban on tail docking”. But her calls were in vain. 

Scottish Government minister Roseanna Cunningham said “there are welfare issues on both sides of the debate”, admitting the issue was “very emotive and divisive”.

“Today’s draft regulations would amend those regulations to allow an exemption for tail shortening by a veterinary surgeon in limited circumstances, but only for the purpose of benefiting dog welfare and only in connection with breeds that are used in shooting activities,” she said. “This is a very emotive and divisive issue but, as Liam McArthur said, there are welfare issues on both sides of the debate. We firmly believe that shortening the tails of puppies that are at risk of tail injury while engaged in lawful shooting activities in later life will improve the welfare of those dogs.”

Paul Kavanagh, columnist in The National, made his ‘Wee Ginger Dug’ famous by writing under a pseudonym, was one of many voices online to condemn the return of tail-docking. 

Picture courtesy of Don Burkett

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