Scots ban on puppy tail docking relaxed after SNP and Conservatives vote for exemptions

Written by Tom Freeman on 22 June 2017 in News

Animal charities left disappointed after Scottish Government votes to exempt working dogs from tail docking ban

Working spaniel by Jamie Montgomery​

Scotland's ban on the amputation or shortening of puppy's tails has been relaxed after SNP and Conservative MSPs voted to allow exemptions for dogs involved in shooting sports.

The amendments to the ban mean that the tails of Spaniel and Hunt Point Retriever puppies can be docked by a maximum of one third in length for puppies that are not more than five days old, when vets have sufficient evidence that the dogs will be used for working purposes in the future.

The move was backed by gamekeepers but opposed by the British Veterinary Association, the Dogs Trust and animal welfare charities.


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In a heated debate on the statutory instrument, Christine Grahame called on her fellow SNP MSPs to oppose the change but she remained the only rebel on the SNP benches. Nine abstained.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "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."

Scottish Green Mark Ruskell said the evidence to support the move had been based on "flawed studies"

"We need rationality, reason and evidence brought to the Parliament whenever a change in the law is proposed. This proposal, shamefully, has none of those. It is a backward step and it is a dangerous precedent for this Parliament to set," he said.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association welcomed the move. Chairman Alex Hogg said: "The ban on tail docking in 2007 was made with good intentions but failed to account for working dogs, whose jobs are very specific. The welfare of these animals was compromised by the legislation and Scottish government deserve immense credit for taking a progressive, evidence-based step to rectify that today."

However the Dogs Trust and animal charities expressed disappointment. 

Dogs Trust Deputy Veterinary Director Run Hanaghan said: "Tail docking involves severing through bone, nerve, muscle, and connective tissue when pups are less than 5 days old, at which point it is very difficult to guarantee they will go on to be working dogs.

"We are deeply saddened that the Scottish Government is reintroducing this outdated and unnecessary practice. Sadly today we've seen a significant step backwards for animal welfare from a country who once led the way."

OneKind Director Harry Huyton said: “This is a sad day for animal welfare. Scotland has gone from a world-leading ban on all tail-docking to a law that offers puppies weaker protection than in England. This was done in the absence of evidence, with no support from the animal welfare and veterinary communities, and against the wishes of the vast majority of the Scottish public who wanted to see the ban remain as it was."

Scottish Labour opposed the amendment, while the Liberal Democrats were given a free vote. All but one - Alex-Cole Hamilton - voted for the change.

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