Old ways are not always best. Knowledge and awareness continue to reshape our interactions with the world and with its various species. In that regard, debate over what constitutes animal cruelty, especially in relation to the practice of docking the tails of dogs, may become heated when the Animal Health and Welfare Bill, 2012, returns to the Dáil for a final reading.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has been under pressure from some rural organisations to allow tail-docking to continue for certain working/hunting dogs, as puppies, so as to prevent future possible injury. Animal welfare groups and veterinary practitioners support the introduction of a ban .
Mr Coveney has a good record on animal welfare. He introduced legislation providing for the welfare of greyhounds and for the regulation of dog-breeding centres. They were necessary, contentious measures that brought the law into line with international best practice. The present Bill extends the protections accorded to animals; clarifies the law and makes it easier to obtain convictions. In particular, it will facilitate the prosecution of people engaged in animal baiting and dog fighting. Dog fighting in Ireland is, as the Minister acknowledged, a significant hidden problem. As well as criminalising the breeding, ownership and possession of such animals, the Bill will make attendance at such events illegal.
Tail-docking has been a traditional practice. On commercial farms it may involve other animals. The legislation would ban all tail-docking “except where there is a good reason to allow it”. Because it is the Minister’s declared intention not to interfere with commercial farming, the protection of dogs is the obvious issue. Tail-docking and ear-cropping has greatly reduced because of changing public and veterinary attitudes. Tail injuries to working dogs are said to be much lower than those caused to puppies by botched procedures. The Veterinary Council of Ireland opposes the practice. Mr Coveney should take note.