March 19, 2009
Gail Golab, PhD, DVM
Dear Dr. Golab,
It is the aim of the membership of the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club, represented by it’s board of governors, to defend the practice of docking tails in our breed based on practical reasons. Thus we provide below sound arguments against the AVMA recommendation which seems to be driven by Animal Rights agenda.
Please understand, all caring and responsible breeders support animal WELFARE, a humanitarian prerogative, however they do NOT support Animal RIGHTS, which is a political movement.
Animal Right’s Argument #1: Docking puppies is cruel and painful.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: The tail bones in a pup at 3-4 days old are still only partially formed and the nervous system undeveloped and therefore the level of pain is less and fleeting. A parallel can be drawn comparing tail docking to human circumcision aside from the fact that the pain of circumcision appears to linger considerably longer than that of either tail docking and dew claw removal combined.
A young lamb or calf at birth is developed to the extent that it can stand and walk with the mother within minutes of being born. These animals are considered “flight” animals and necessarily must be more developed at birth, especially neurologically. A puppy, like a human, is essentially helpless for quite some time after birth. The pup is still developing sight, hearing, and the nervous system for many days after birth, just as the human infant. These animals, including the human, are considered “nest” animals and are less developed and are dependent on nurturing at birth and beyond, thereby not requiring a fully operational nervous system.
A very well reasoned argument proving the difference in development in various animals (including humans) is one made by Prof. Dr. R. Fritsch, Clinic of Veterinary Surgeons Justus Lieberg University. Dr. Fritcsh cites the similarity of human and dog infant physiology as it affects the ability to feel pain, comparing this to that of other animals more advanced in neurological development such as herd animals, including sheep, which are routinely docked. Dr. Fritcsh concluded that the docking procedure in 4 day old puppies does NOT result in any serious pain. Please read the entire report in full at: http://www.cdb.org/vets/fritsch.htm
The Kerry Blue Terrier is a very exuberant dog and even in the home situation can damage it’s tail by striking it against furniture or other household furnishings. In the field the Kerry Blue Terrier has been and is used as a go to ground hunter for vermin. In order to remove the dog from an earth tunnel or den, the tail provides a means to carefully pull the dog out of the tunnel or den. This is the only body part the hunter can reach to safely extract the dog to prevent serious attack against the dog from the prey. In the close confines of the tunnel or den the tail can become turned back on itself as the dog backs out, or as the handler uses it to signal removal. This can result in a sprained or even broken tail. Docked tails are stronger and rarely damaged.
Once damaged, the tail is extremely difficult to heal, whether it be broken or split, sometimes requiring amputation later in life when the dog must be placed under general anesthetic causing undue stress. Pain post surgery and difficulty in keeping the dog from re-damaging the wound is always an issue.
Animal Right’s Argument #2: Tail docking is a dangerous procedure and results in later health issues.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: Nothing could be further from the truth. When done properly, the procedure is quick, there is very little vascular involvement, therefore less chance for infection and the puppies bounce back immediately from the procedure. It is the rare docking surgery that goes awry. This is in stark contrast to the much ballyhooed early spay neuter currently applauded wherein all manner of serious chronic conditions can develop, including chronic incontinence in young dogs, CCL rupture, hip dysplasia and other serious medical issues. Reference: Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete One Veterinarian’s Opinion© 2005 Chris Zink DVM, PhD, DACVP
Animal Right’s Argument #3: Tail docking is done only to win shows or for cosmetic reasons.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: The Kerry Blue Terrier has been around since the 19th century and earlier. Historical references prove the tail was docked, as well as proof in early painting and photographs reflecting this fact. The Kerry Blue Terrier was not exhibited in any numbers until the early 1920s, therefore docking is certainly NOT done to win at shows. Docking is performed to save the dog pain and medical hardship due to injury in adulthood.
Argument #4: Tails are required for balance while running, or for swimming.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: Despite this argument, no dogs have ever been proven to fall over due to the lack of a tail. A docked tail does not result in a dog exhibiting poor balance or difficulty moving properly. This ridiculous argument is readily disproved by comparing the movement of a docked Kerry Blue Terrier with an undocked one. However, while both dogs are speeding around and doing the typical breed mid-air turns and leaping, the Kerry with the docked tail will be LESS likely to suffer tail damage.
Many docked breeds, including the Kerry Blue Terrier and even fully docked breeds, are excellent swimmers and are very capable of making short turns and efficient movements in water, thereby disproving another ridiculous argument.
Argument #5: Tails are required for expression.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: The average human believes the tail is the most accurate barometer of a dog’s mental state, yet full body language as used by other dogs to determine this state is much more reliable. Even fully docked dogs can easily give a full range of emotions readable by both dogs and humans. Suggesting an undocked tail is necessary to make an accurate reading on a dog’s disposition is a silly and specious argument.
Argument #6: Docking tails is Cosmetic Mutilation.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: “Cosmetic Mutilation” is a catch-phrase, carefully coined by radical animal rights advocates to elicit maximum shock value with the aim of squelching any logical consideration. It is a carefully contrived wording guaranteed to misrepresent a centuries old practice developed for the welfare of a working animal. This term is specifically designed to bring emotion into the argument, thereby relegating logic and science to the very dim background. Emotion is hard to argue against because people fooled into relying on emotion rather than thinking logically are caught up in their “feelings’ thereby rejecting out of hand any intelligent discourse. Pejorative terminology is a weapon used to great effect by animal rights advocates, entirely designed to elicit emotional response and destroy logical discourse.
Argument #7: Other dogs don’t have their tails docked.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: The practice of docking a hunting/working dog’s tail was generally done for practical reasons, specifically to avoid more serious and extensive damage in later life. Level of activity and breed specific proclivities (jumping, navigating close quarters, digging into earth) may result in tail damage while at work or play. While other breeds may not benefit from the practice, Kerry Blues as stated earlier, are extremely active dogs and are prone to acrobatic activities in work and play, thereby making them prone to tail damage.
Argument #8: Other countries are banning tail docking.
Responsible Breeder’s Response: While this is true, it has proven disastrous for many working dogs. Many countries having banned tail docking are currently re-considering if not totally reversing their prior stance, making lawful docking of hunting breeds for humanitarian reasons. Denmark’s Anti-docking law specifically excludes five hunting breeds. Several anti-docking dog laws are being reconsidered due to the number of reported tail damages in all traditionally docked breeds.
We respect that the AVMA acts in what it believes is in the best interest of dogs. We share the concerns of the AVMA that all creatures must be treated with respect and dignity and our members strive to assure the health and well being of their Kerry Blue Terriers. That is why our members dock their tails and remove their dew claws….to prevent injury as they do the job for which they were bred, We, therefore, respectfully request that the AVMA review this policy immediately. If you would like additional information or to discuss further please feel free to contact our club.
Thomas W. Rogers
cc: Dennis Sprung
cc: Dr. Patricia Haines
You can also read a letter from Prof. Dr. R. Fritsch, Leader of the Clinic of Veterinary Surgeons, Justus-Lieberg-University, to the German Kennel Club, posted with permission, on the USKBTC website at Docking & Dew Claws – A Point of View.