Opening Space: Dealing with the Real World

The outside world’s perception of us as dog people will affect what we do and how we live.

By Bo Bengtson | July 1, 2006

How long will we in this country be protected from the rest of the world, safe inside the highly artificial bubble that the American dog fancy is? I like being there as well as the next guy; it’s a comfortable and very privileged place to be, but it scares me that so many dog people don’t seem to have a clue that we could lose it all if we’re not careful. How are we going to ride out the drastic changes that are bound to take place fairly soon? Have you even thought about it?

What I’m talking about is the outside world’s perception of us as dog people and how that will affect what we do and how we live. If you say you couldn’t care less about the rest of the world… well, that may sound good, but ultimately you and your dogs are as dependent on the rest of society as the next person.


Docking and Cropping

Take docking and cropping, for instance. New Yorkers got a rude awakening in May, when assemblywoman Sandy Galef introduced a bill to prohibit ear cropping and tail docking. If the bill passes, anyone found guilty of cropping or docking would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be sentenced to a year in jail as well as up to $1000 in fines. In order to compete at any event — conformation show, field trial, obedience, agility — the owner would have to prove either that the dog had been docked/cropped before Sept. 1, 2006 or that the operation had taken place in another state. Such a measure could, of course, eventually endanger most organized dog activities in the state of New York. This is not the first time or the only place that the question of docking and cropping has been raised in the United States, and it certainly won’t be the last. If you read Amy Fernandez and Kim Townsend’s excellent article about anti-dog legislation in the June issue of Dogs in Review, you will see that West Hollywood, Calif., tried to ban tail docking in 2003, although the bylaw was later thrown out by a judge. The article also makes clear the ambivalent position of the veterinarian organizations: the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights is categorically opposed to any docking and cropping for cosmetic reasons, the American Veterinary Medical Association informs pet owners of the risks involved in docking and cropping but opposes the more extreme "animal rights” movement, and the American Animal Hospital Association takes a position somewhere in between.

Seeing what’s happening in the rest of the world, it’s clear to me that we need to have a plan of action when further suggestions of this kind are introduced. Most countries in Europe, Scandinavia, England and Australia are now subjected to some restrictions of this type. Do we want to join them and simply accept that docking and cropping should be outlawed, or do we want to put up a good fight? The American Kennel Club, in a letter from President Dennis B. Sprung to the Assembly Agriculture Committee which will decide the bill’s fate, opposes the measure mainly for economic reasons. According to AKC estimates, participants at their organized events contribute about $35 million to the state’s economy per year, not including transportation, hotel and restaurant spending by judges. Fear of losing that revenue may fend off the proposal for now, but surely we can come up with a better reason for docking and cropping than money? (Especially since it’s clear that dog show activities have not been hurt by the new restrictions in other countries.)

What we need are really solid arguments that would impress those who feel it’s unethical to "cut off parts of an animal’s body for cosmetic reasons.” (If you want to see how the discussion could shape up, take a look at the illustration of an old-fashioned tail-docking in progress on p. 112 in the June issue of Dogs in Review. I have to admit I cringed when I saw that, but we’ll have to be prepared for a lot worse.) Personally, I feel there’s a world of difference between docking and cropping. Tail docking is done early; when performed correctly the puppies barely notice. Some breeds are actually better off without a long tail. (When I had Greyhounds I remember wishing we could dock them, because in their enthusiasm they often whipped their tails into a bloody frenzy…) Cropping is a much more invasive procedure, but I’m not capable of determining if it’s "inhumane” or not. I would certainly miss the look of a beautifully cropped Great Dane or Doberman if it were outlawed, but I don’t think just saying "It looks great!” is going to be a response that would impress the opposition.

If your breed is traditionally cropped, what would your arguments for retaining that tradition be if you were, for instance, asked to defend it in a public forum, facing an audience of regular non-show dog lovers? I would love to hear your suggestions, and I hope you will spend some time coming up with good ideas.


Delta Update

In the last issue I mentioned that Delta Airline’s response to a request for information about how to ship dogs safely consisted of only a brief, automatically generated standard response. That’s all I had received by the time we went to press.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me add that Delta later sent a somewhat fuller response. It did not include any more useful information than was already available, but at least Delta did not in this case act any differently from the other airlines.

For the record, the Whippet that was lost at JFK Airport while in Delta’s charge over three months ago is still at large. Those who have more experience of such things than I do say it’s normal for domestic dogs to turn feral when they are lost and that it can take many months, even years, before they are caught — not by their owners or searchers, not in a trap, but usually simply by someone finally shutting a door or a gate.

That is, of course, provided that the dog can survive long enough on its own. A few readers have suggested that it speaks well for our supposedly "spoiled” show dogs that one of their kind is so obviously capable of fending for herself. That may be true, in a "survival of the fittest” sense. Frankly, I would much rather she just came back home.

Be good to your dogs…


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