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Tail-docking Cheltenham vet suspended by RCVS

14 December 2006

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This is an archived news story.

The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has today found a Cheltenham veterinary surgeon guilty of serious professional misconduct for docking puppies' tails and suspended him for 28 days.

At the hearing, Mr John McKenna MRCVS admitted to having docked the tails of 11 Weimaraner puppies in January 2005 for non-therapeutic reasons. The RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct states explicitly that veterinary surgeons should only tail-dock dogs for truly therapeutic or prophylactic reasons.

The Committee heard how although the puppies' owner, Mrs McNaught, had some concerns about the docking procedure, before, during and afterwards, Mr McKenna made no attempt to explore her feelings on the subject; nor did he have any knowledge of the puppies' future owners or whether they would actually become working dogs.

Although Mr McKenna admitted to not knowing the full extent of this guidance on docking of dogs' tails, the Committee decided that he ought to have done. The Committee also rejected Mr McKenna's claim that this guidance was ambivalent as "the RCVS took particular care to define the exact meaning of [the] separate parts [of the guidance]".

The Committee also found that by describing the procedure as 'cosmetic' to Mrs McNaught, Mr McKenna knew he was docking to conform to fashion and for no truly prophylactic reason.

Giving expert evidence at the hearing, Professor David Morton MRCVS described the tail-docking in these circumstances as an unacceptable mutilation that had no therapeutic or genuine prophylactic reason. Advising the Committee of his views on the pain and suffering experienced by puppies that undergo tail docking, he stated: "Only when the harms done are outweighed by the advantages realistically sought can docking be justified."

The Committee recognised, however, that this was Mr McKenna's first appearance before the Disciplinary Committee in a career that had spanned some 40 years. It felt there was no question as to Mr McKenna's good character and veterinary skills, and further recognised that the proceedings had already caused him great distress, not least due to severely critical press coverage.

Mr Brian Jennings, Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee, said: "While we consider that Mr McKenna's ignorance of the RCVS guidance falls so far short of acceptable and responsible practice that it amounts to serious professional misconduct, we consider his conduct was more cavalier than calculated. There is no evidence to show that he frequently and regularly docked puppies' tails, nor that he had a reputation for doing so.

"For these reasons, we do not wish to make an example of Mr McKenna, but prefer to take the lenient view by suspending him for 28 days. However, this decision is an indication to the profession that the RCVS is unequivocal in its opposition to tail docking of dogs."

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