I got an email tonight from Char (Pearl's first mom and breeder) letting me know that a woman in the U.K. has been jailed for violating the ban on tail docking that exists over there.
For those who do not keep up on such things, the new U.K. law states that only veterinarians can dock puppy tails, and that even then it can only be done if it is deemed to be "medically necessary."
Heads up. In this increasingly interconnected world, even stupid ideas in other countries can quickly creep in over here. A while back, for example, I received an email from Canada suggesting that the idea was gaining ground in that country. My correspondent wrote:
"I am writing you for help in clarifying a long standing dispute among terrier fanciers involved in conformation dog shows. I am involved in several traditionally docked terrier breeds (Lakeland, Fox, Welsh etc.) and it is becoming increasingly common to see these breeds undocked. Is there a functional purpose for docking tails? Is it required to work terriers?
Why I am supposed to be an expert on these things?
I don't know, but I guess I'm as good as the next guy to ask for an opinion. So here goes.
This is a European debate. You remember Europe. Europe is the place where the rivers are so polluted that the eels no longer run up the rivers to spawn, and where carp are considered a game fish. Europe is the place that has shot out almost all its wolves and bears. Europe is the place that colonized Africa and now lets Africans starve due to lack of aid or political intervention.
Europe has ignored these things, and decided that the the real horror in the world is docking puppy dog tails!
The Brits were fools to follow Europe in this. Now let's hope Canada does not go follow the Brits, or I may have to burn my Joni Mitchell and Neil Young CD's.
Tail docking is a very minor procedure and does no harm to the dog. It is largely aesthetic and historical with certain breeds. That said, some terriers and other breeds have long thin tails that can be damaged when whipped in brush, worked in rock, etc. so they may benefit, medically, if they are docked. How often an over-thin and fragile tail is a real medical problem depends on the breed, the dog, how it works, where it works (and if it is worked at all).
A terrier's tail, of course, is an essential part of the dog, and I consider it a very stupid thing to dock a terrier tail too short. I always advise people to err on the side of leaving the tail too long. You do not want to lose a good handle on the rear end of a working terrier by being too quick or aggressive with a pair of tail nippers.
That said, a very long tail is of no use to a terrier, and could be a small health liability. A dog often has to exit a hole backwards and around curves. In that situation, a long thin tail could be a problem -- imagine exiting a tight and winding tunnel with a spring-pole stuck out behind you, and you get the idea. And then there are the thin tail tips that bleed when banged against rocks and brush.
Some caveats. At least one breed of working terrier does not have a docked tail -- the border terrier -- and neither do working dachshunds. The tail on a border, however, is a very solid thing and is not easily damaged. If you cannot pick up a border terrier by its tail and throw it over a fence, it's not a true border terrier. A tail that is left intact on a working Jack Russell terrier, however, often ends up being very long and thin, and as a consequence it could be subject to real damage, and so it is generally docked.
Another issue for working dogs is that digging on a dog is not an absolutely precise thing, and so the length, form and placement of the tail becomes an issue. To put it bluntly, a long thin whippy tail trailing behind an underground dog could be subject to being trimmed by a shovel.
Has it ever happened to me or anyone I know? No. I am careful and my dogs rarely come in direct contact with a shovel. That said, it does not take too much imagination to think harm could result if a digger were very inattentive.
All in all, however, and as I said before, tail docking is mostly done for cosmetic and historical reasons.
But so what? We do a lot of things for cosmetic and historical reasons. Why can't tail tail docking be one of them? For God's sake, people, let's use a little common sense!
People circumcise their children, women get themselves nipped for child birth (it's called an episiotomy), and every third teenager has a pierced tongue, nipple, eyebrow or navel.
Whole TV shows are devoted to full-body tattoos.
Women are getting breast implants or breast reductions, and men are getting hair transplants and scalp reductions.
Noses are bobbed, fat is sucked out, teeth are capped, botox is injected, and ears are being pierced, ringed, barbelled, and pinned.
Ever been to a PETA rally? If you look around, you will see a lot of metal hanging out of nostrils, off of eye brows, or rammed through tongues. Every other girl will be showing off her "tramp stamp" tattoo on the small of her back. God only knows what you might find ringed, belled and pierced if you were foolish enough to ever see one of these PETA lunatics standing before you naked. The mind shudders.
Consider PETA spokes-idiot Pamela Anderson, who not only married the walking Erector Set known as Tommy Lee, but who also got her own body repeatedly tucked, sucked, injected, lifted, dyed, bobbed, and implanted. And these people are worried about a ten-second tail nip? What on earth for?
There are real problems in the world, and this is NOT one of them.
The anti-tail docking people have no sensible rationale to oppose tail docking -- it is a ten-second thing done when the dog is one or two days old, and it is over with very little fuss or pain. People who love dogs more than their own lives have been doing it for generations -- proof alone that it is a small thing and does no damage to the dog while sometimes serving a health function in the field.
Here are some real things to worry about with dogs:
- Closed genetic registries which mean that the genetic diversity of dogs is dramatically reduced in time, and with it the health of every breed with a closed registry (i.e. all Kennel Club breeds);
- Fat dogs which do not see exercise and which have sad and shortened lives (about 1/3 of all dogs);
- Slick floors in kitchens which increases the chance of hip dysplasia for all large canines (a serious and sad thing);
- Poor fencing, poor obedience training, and the complete absence of tags and microchipping which means dogs are easily lost and frequently struck by cars.
These are REAL dog problems. Tail docking does not even come close to making the list of things to be concerned about -- in the world of working dogs or otherwise.
Not everything in the world needs to be legislated, and this is something that fits under the umbrella of "leave it alone and let freedom ring."
If a breeder of nonworking dogs wants to leave the tails on their dog long, so what? If a breeder wants a sensible working dog with a properly docked tail, so what?
What interest, business or concern is it of society?
The tail docking debate is really about a very small but vocal sector of society wanting to be nannies to the rest of us.
As a general rule these people know very little about dogs, know nothing about working dogs, and do not give a rat's behind about honest animal welfare -- if they did, they would pick a real issue to take action on.
And there are a LOT of real animal welfare issues. How about habitat protection? How about disease control in wild animal populations (rabies, distemper, mange, tuberculosis, chronic wasting disease, West Nile)? How about pushing to lower the price of veterinary care and improving access to it as well? These are real issues.
Fair warning, however -- making a change in these arenas might involve actually going out into the environment with mud, bugs, rain and cold (Ugh!).
In addition, a real problem might be inconveniently complex and serious (God forbid!), and actually involve something more involved than self-righteous bullying of ignorant legislators and dog owners.
But of course, the tail-docking debate is not really about dogs, is it? It's about people who want to feel smarter and superior to others. These people will always be with us and I suggest they simply find something new to feel smarter and superior about.
If, faced with all the issues and problems in the world (hunger, violence, hurricanes, disease, lack of health insurance, war, poverty, illiteracy, racism, deforestation, violence against women, animal extinctions, loss of global fisheries, pollution, child abuse, etc.), someone thinks tail docking of well-loved pets and working dogs is a major concern worthy of time and energy, they are idiots.
Nannying European idiots.