1. The current law is set out in section 6 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and in the Docking of Working Dogs' Tails (England) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1120).
2. In brief, the Act makes it an offence to remove the whole of part of a dog's tail other than for the purpose of medical treatment, subject to the exemption for docking the tails of certain working dogs. In particular, the legislation states:
a. that any veterinary surgeon who docks a tail must certify that s/he has seen specified evidence that the dog is likely to work in specified areas (the form of words for the docking certificate can be found on the DEFRA website);
b. the dog must be no older than five days and will need to be microchipped;
c. the types of dog that may be docked (types specified in the Docking of Working Dogs' Tails (England) Regulations 2007 are (1) hunt point retrieve breeds of any type of combination of types, (2) spaniels of any type of combination of types or (3) terriers of any type of combination of types. A copy of these regulations can be found on the OPSI website); and
d. the types of evidence which the veterinary surgeon will need to see.
3. Veterinary surgeons practising in England should also be aware of the provisions which apply in other parts of the United Kingdom, as they might be asked to undertake docking that could be illegal in the client's normal country of residence.
4. The current law is set out in section 6 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and in the Docking of Working Dogs' Tails (Wales) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1028 (W.95)). The regulations are similar to those which apply in England but not identical. In particular:
a. the types of dog which may be docked are more narrowly defined (types specified in the Docking of Working Dogs' tails regulations 2007 are (1) certain hunt point retrieve breeds, (2) certain breeds of spaniels and (3) certain breeds of terriers. There is a detailed list of the breeds which can be docked in Schedule 2 Part 1 of the Regulations and this is available on the OPSI website;
b. the certificate which must be completed by both veterinary surgeon and client requires the client to specify the breed of the dog and its dam, and the veterinary surgeon must be satisfied that the dog and its dam are of the stated type (information about the certification required is available on the Welsh Assembly website;
c. the certificate must specify the purpose for which the dog is likely to be used and confirm that evidence relevant to the particular case has been produced.
5. Veterinary surgeons practising in Wales should also be aware of the provisions which apply in other parts of the United Kingdom, as they might be asked to undertake docking that could be illegal in the client's normal country of residence.
6. The current law is set out in section 20 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. This prohibits the mutilation of animals, apart from procedures specified in regulations, and the regulations which have been made do not include an exemption for non-therapeutic tail- docking of dogs. It will also be an offence to take a dog from Scotland for the purpose of having its tail docked.
7. There has been no change in the law in Northern Ireland. Thus the legal advice obtained by the RCVS in 1996, set out below, still applies:
Leading Counsel has advised:
1. Docking, which may be defined as the amputation of the whole or part of a dog's tail has, since July 1993, been illegal under UK law, if performed by a lay person.
2. The Royal College has for many years been firmly opposed to the docking of dogs' tails, whatever the age of the dog, by anyone, unless it can be shown truly to be required for therapeutic or truly prophylactic reasons.
3. Docking cannot be defined as prophylactic unless it is undertaken for the necessary protection of the given dog from risks to that dog of disease or of injury which is likely to arise in the future from the retention of an entire tail. The test of likelihood is whether or not such outcome will probably arise in the case of that dog if it is not docked. Faecal soiling in the dog is not for this purpose a disease or injury, and its purported prevention by surgical means cannot be justified.
4. Similarly, docking cannot be described as prophylactic if it is undertaken merely on request, or just because the dog is of a particular breed, type or conformation. Council considers that such docking is unethical.
5. Docking a dog's tail for reasons which are other than truly therapeutic or prophylactic is capable of amounting to conduct disgraceful in a professional respect. In the event of disciplinary proceedings being brought in respect of tail docking, it shall be open to the RCVS by evidence to prove, and to the Disciplinary Committee on such evidence to find, that any therapeutic or prophylactic justification advanced for the docking in question is without substance. If such a finding is made, the Disciplinary Committee may proceed to consider and to decide whether in the circumstances the veterinary surgeon who undertook that docking knew, or ought to have known, that such purported justification is without substance.
6. For the avoidance of any doubt, any instance of tail docking which is found to have been undertaken for reasons which were not truly therapeutic or prophylactic will necessarily constitute an unacceptable mutilation of the dog, which, if carried out by a veterinary surgeon who knew or ought to have known of the lack of true justification, would almost certainly be considered to be conduct disgraceful in a professional respect.
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