Gamekeepers bid to overturn docking law

(l to r) Perthshire veterinary nurse Charlotte Knight, Richard Lochhead MSP, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg and working dog owner Gerry Oliphant at the Parliament for the hand-over of the petition
(l to r) Perthshire veterinary nurse Charlotte Knight, Richard Lochhead MSP, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg and working dog owner Gerry Oliphant at the Parliament for the hand-over of the petition

Gamekeepers lobbied the Scottish Parliament last week, urging politicians to reverse the ban on tail docking of working dogs.

Peebleshire gamekeeper Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), delivered the 4,158-signature petition to environment secretary Richard Lochhead, calling for a change in the law for working dogs on the grounds of animal welfare.

The gamekeepers say working spaniels and other retrievers are suffering because of the ban, introduced in 2007, which covers all dogs.

They say the animals can damage their tails in thick undergrowth such as gorse and brambles as they pick up game.

Neighbours England, Wales and Northern Ireland made exemptions for working dogs in their tail docking laws. But Scotland has yet to follow.

Penalities for tail docking in Scotland are a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

Mr Hogg said: “We fully agree dogs’ tails should not be docked for cosmetic reasons, but working dogs, by nature, are different and every other UK country has recognised this except Scotland.”

The SGA says research, carried out by Glasgow University for the Scottish Government, shows that more than half of working spaniels suffered at least one tail injury during the 2010/11 shooting season.

And nearly 40 per cent of hunt point retrievers also suffered, with some injuries resulting in surgery and eventual amputation. The researchers are understood to have surveyed 2,860 working dogs.

Mr Hogg claimed: “Alex Salmond promised at our AGM seven years ago that any government he led would reverse this ban, if there was evidence to do so.

“We were told 14 months ago that this research (Glasgow University’s) would be published ‘within weeks’. Nothing has happened. It’s cruel. It’s time to get this reviewed.”

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead told The Southern: “Animal welfare is extremely important and any decision taken by the Scottish Government fully considers the welfare of each and every animal affected. That is why the Scottish Government brought in legislation to protect dogs from the suffering caused by unnecessary tail docking and why – when the issue was raised with us – we then funded research into tail injuries in undocked working dogs.

“We expect that research to be published in the next few weeks and it will provide a sound basis to discuss whether further action needs to be taken to protect working dogs from injury.”

Some dogs who had undergone amputations following injuries were among those with their owners at Holyrood for the petition handover last Wednesday.

Prior to the ban, it was legal to dock the tail of working pups at two or three days old.

The SGA argues injury in an adult dog, followed by amputation, inflicts more pain and distress over a longer period than preventative docking.

One of last week’s lobbyists, Gerry Oliphant took his spaniel Struie, whose tail was amputated in his first working season.

Mr Oliphant said: “If Struie’s tail had been docked legally by a ve, at two days old, he would never have suffered the distress he did. I’m only concerned about the welfare of my dogs. My other two cockers have docked tails and they have never had an injury in their lives.”