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Docking Tails on the Docket
New York considers a ban on cutting tails.
A reason to wag: no docked tails.

If the phones aren’t ringing off the hooks for members of the New York Assembly Agriculture Committee, they will be as soon as they take up serious consideration of Assembly Bill 7218. The bill proposes to make all instances of docking a dog’s tail unlawful, except when deemed necessary by a veterinarian to protect the life or health of the dog. In addition, it will make anyone exhibiting a dog with a docked tail subject to a misdemeanor charge. And, finally, the bill provides that New York animal rights organizations can sue a violator for declaratory judgment to obtain redress for a violation. (Full text.)

Members of the American Kennel Club and other breeders are lining up to defend docking, which they call an acceptable practice “integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health, and preventing injuries.”

While I wish we didn’t have to legislate common sense, I don’t really see the argument for docking. Is it really about protecting working dogs against injury? The AKC claims “an intact tail at full-length would result in injured and bloodied tails when the dogs perform the functions for which they were bred.” Setting aside the fact that many of these dogs’ “work” is in a show ring, wouldn’t an exemption for working dogs, such as they have in the United Kingdom’s Animal Welfare Law, cover this risk to dogs? 

The argument that the practice of docking is “longstanding” and “accepted” for “more than 50 recognized breeds” hardly makes the case for it. Lots of obviously bad ideas were widely accepted before they were rejected. As for preserving “breed character” that’s a tough one. Isn’t character just a human idea of what a dog should look like? Couldn’t we learn to love long-tailed Dobermans and Rottweilers? I know I already do.

The other side? Neither the American Veterinary Medical Association nor the American Animal Hospital Association endorse tail-docking for cosmetic purposes. Each states that the procedure causes dogs pain and distress and runs risks of complications, hemorrhage and infection. While neither organization is conclusive about long-term problems associated with docked tails, there is a growing body of evidence that docking tails may create ongoing pain for dogs, maybe even phantom limb syndrome, problems with balance and compensation injuries. There’s an excellent coverage of the debate in the December 2005 issue of Whole Dog Journal.

And what about wagging? I mean, aside from the health consequences, what do we do to a dogs' ability to "speak" to us and to one another when we cut off this important communication tool?

Speaking of communication, I expect this will ruffle some fur, and I sincerely want to hear from proponents and opponents. Please, tell me what you think.

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

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