DEAR DR. FOX: I would like to address the response you received from Brandi Hunter, vice president of public relations for the American Kennel Club, which you printed in your column recently.
Hunter states, "The AKC is dedicated to the well-being of all dogs; it in no way condones or supports substandard care..."
Would you consider the painful and systematic ear and tail docking the AKC insists certain breeds have to maintain their vision of how a dog looks under the widely accepted "dog standard" substandard? The AKC inflicts a selfish vision of how some breeds should look, which is not the way they are born to look. The maiming of these helpless animals is animal abuse and absolutely unethical.
Hunter also mentions a H.E.A.R.T. program and various breeder education courses. Do they mention in these courses that the tail is actually part of the animal's spine, and dogs' ears are full of nerves? I cannot begin to imagine the pain these dogs experience and the potential health and emotional issues caused by these procedures.
What is your opinion on the docking of dogs' vital body parts so their humans can follow the AKC "dog standard"? With your voice, we can better educate the public on this issue. -- J.R., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR J.R.: I sent your letter to the American Kennel Club. This is the reply that I received:
"Canine Legislation Position Statement: ear cropping, tail docking and dewclaw removal
"The American Kennel Club recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health. Appropriate veterinary care should be provided."
This "position statement" is ethically unacceptable except insofar as removal of extra, non-functional dewclaws on the hind legs, which is not cosmetic but needed to stop them being torn when the dog runs.
Tail docking and ear cropping should be phased out and breed standards changed, but the AKC is clearly pandering to breed clubs and those dog show judges who see nothing wrong with such mutilations. For more details, see my article "Dog Mutilations," posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net.
In more dog-friendly (and in my opinion, less barbaric) cultures, such as in the United Kingdom, veterinarians amputate dogs' tails only for medical reasons, and certain "breed standards" that involve ear cropping and tail docking are not evident in dog shows.
DEAR DR. FOX: I was happy to see you remind us that captive animals are not necessarily pets. In this case, it was regarding reptiles and amphibians. Do you consider birds captive animals as well? I've never understood why it is acceptable to take a creature with the awesome ability to fly, clip its wings, cage it and call it a pet.
The only captive animals I've kept were "fancy" mice during my daughter's childhood. We tried to keep their habitat as natural as possible, and we endeavored to keep them busy hunting for food and nesting materials. We always kept a wheel available, but it was rarely used. I always hoped that meant they were not going stir-crazy enough to need it! -- S.P.K., Louisville, Kentucky
DEAR S.P.K.: For many people, bringing any animal into the home is like taking in a new family member to be treated with respect and understanding. For others, regrettably, they are disposable commodities -- live toys for the kids who too soon lose interest when there is a lack of parental supervision and example.
In general, animals adapt best to living with us if they have no fear. In the process of domesticating animals like white mice, rabbits, ferrets, canaries and parakeets, there are genetic changes that mean less hypervigilance and less fearfulness and fright-flight-fight reactivity, therefore less stress and potential suffering. This makes these animals easier to socialize, and they develop an emotional bond with people. Freedom from fear is a basic animal right.
Another right is a proper, safe environment. For any bird, captive and wild but not releasable, such as an Amazon parrot, or domesticated, like a canary, this means a safe place to fly -- preferably a large flight cage or room. Clipping or pinioning their wings is more for convenience than their safety, and it amounts to a cruel and unnecessary mutilation. Yet another right for highly social avian species like parakeets is group housing so they have the security and enrichment of each other's company.
Any bird in a cage -- except briefly for medical purposes -- is an abomination. Many suffer, developing stress-related diseases, physical problems from lack of activity and behavioral problems such as feather-pulling and self-mutilation.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)