After last week’s blog, I had a request to briefly review the history of ear cropping, tail docking, and declawing. Unfortunately it’s not a pleasant past, but interesting all the same.
Let’s travel back in time to the Roman Empire. Bacterial infections and viruses were rampant, and the Romans believed in vengeful gods ready to strike down wayward disciples with a flick of a lightning bolt, or bite of a rabid dog. Rabies was a serious concern as it was lethal to dogs as well as humans. So naturally, all working dogs were mandated to have their tongues and ears clipped in order to ward off this zoonotic threat.
Zooming ahead to the 16oo’s, England created a tax on the tails of all non-working dogs, or “pleasure-breed” dogs. The tails of ratters (terriers), farm dogs, and pointers or hunting breeds were often damaged while on the job, so it was considered kinder to remove accident prone appendages rather than leave them vulnerable to wounds and infections. This led to docked tails in non-working breeds so that frugal owners could save a few bob on taxes. (Funnily enough, the rich left their hunting dogs’ tails long to show they could afford the extra tax.)
Ear cropping stems from the inhumane sport of dog fighting. The more well-muscled and supposedly aggressive breeds were enlisted into these escapades leaving them open to a host of injuries, if not death. The ears and tails of canine gladiators were inevitably the first to suffer battle wounds, so again it was regarded as a kindness to just remove them and avoid needless pain and infection.
Cat declawing found its beginnings in the dog fighting arena as well. This is probably the most cringe-worthy of our amputation origins so brace yourself. Owners would sometimes prime their canine fighters by throwing them a cat before battle. Cats defend themselves no matter what the odds of losing are. The dog would invariably win and kill the cat, taste blood and be keen for the next fight, but would have suffered injuries from the cat. To minimize pre-battle feline inflicted wounds, owners removed the cats’ claws.
Dog fighting was banned in 1835 in the UK, and finally banned in the USA in 1976…uh, what the heck took so long America?! The taxation of dogs was repealed in 1796 and the rabies vaccine was discovered in 1885.
So no need to dock tails, crop ears, or declaw cats, right? No matter what age these surgeries are undertaken, pain, infection, and post-surgical complications are associated with an essentially pointless and inhumane operation. Regardless of our scientific and social progressions, these cosmetic amputations are still favored among many breeders and owners. (This could be from a book dating back to 1891 entitled, The American Book of the Dog, which deems cropped ears and docked tails as the “proper look.”)
In the UK and Ireland (and most of Europe), it’s now illegal to ear crop and tail dock without cause, and declawing is unheard of. In the states cosmetic amputation surgeries are slowly becoming a discouraged practice. In 2008 the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) changed its policy, explicitly encouraging the elimination of cosmetic surgeries from breed standards-but it’s still legal, and still widely practiced.
(Not to forget sheep; at a young age, farmers dock the tails of their sheep to reduce the build-up of feces, effectively preventing fly-strike, or maggot infestations.)
I hope you found this little history lesson interesting! And everyone who has the privelage to vote in the American presidential election today, please remember to vote!