Failed ear cropping resolution reignites cosmetic surgery ethics debate

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Aug 01, 2009

SEATTLE — When the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) revised its policy on ear cropping and tail docking late last year, it was both congratulated and assailed by outside entities.


Ultimate resolution: Nearly three-quarters of AVMA delegates sided against ear cropping and tail docking for cosmetic reasons.
Six months later when the House of Delegates decided to debate the issue once again, delegates reacted the same way. In the end, three-quarters of them reaffirmed the association's position against these surgeries.




A failed resolution, introduced by the Utah Veterinary Medical Association (UVMA), would have revised the policy from: "The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes. The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards" to "Although cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking of dogs has little or no therapeutic basis, it is a procedure that is condoned by the American Kennel Club and by many members of society. It is imperative that the procedures be performed by trained, licensed and caring veterinarians using current standards of care. The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking in breed standards. Members of the AVMA will conform to all state mandates concerning the procedures."

Dr. Roddy Sharp, a Utah delegate, didn't mince words. In fact, he says the AVMA needs to make up its mind – either pets are property or they are more.




"We advocate that pets are to be owned, but then we tell owners what they can/can't do with their pets," says Sharp. "I don't think it's the association's job to tell people what they can do.

"I do a lot of ear cropping, and, frankly, I've got a vested interest in this," Sharp adds. "I do a lot of tail docking, too. And I don't have a problem with it. A lot of vets do. It's an emotional issue."

Dr. Gail Golab, head of AVMA's Animal Welfare Division, says the new policy is consistent with its stance taken in 1976.

"Philosophically there is no change," she says. "We've never come out with a statement in support of ear cropping and tail docking."

Still, the American Kennel Club (AKC) blasted the AVMA for the revised policy, stating "the AKC was very disappointed not to have been consulted regarding this latest iteration of the policy."

"Mislabeling these procedures as 'cosmetic' is a severe mischaracterization that connotes a lack of respect and knowledge of history and the function of purebred dogs," AKC says.

But veterinarians have been shying away from performing the procedures for many years. Veterinary colleges do not even teach them.

"I love plastic surgery, and I was the best ear cropper in Oakland, Calif.," says Dr. James Harris, an AVMA delegate for the Association of Avian Veterinarians. "When a Great Dane that wasn't cropped won best in show at Westminster, I walked up to the front desk and said I no longer do ear crops."

Harris told his receptionist that if someone wanted the surgery for his or her pet, they could schedule an office visit to talk. If they still wanted the procedure, he would do it. He would even agree to subtracting the office visit consultation charge from the cost of surgery.

"I never did another one again," Harris says.

In Tasmania, where Harris currently practices, performing an ear crop is punishable by law. In Great Britain, tails have not been docked in 100 years.

"I don't get it, honestly," Harris continues. "We can certainly make a good living doing various other things. I now practice in Tasmania, and I'm as busy as ever."

The resolution failed, but not everyone was pleased with the outcome or the association's position.

"I hope the new policy will get laws changed to make it illegal, especially ear cropping," says Dr. James Weber, an AVMA delegate from Kentucky.

In Kentucky, breeders are common. As a result, Weber practically gives away tail docks.

"People come in with handmade clamps, bands, etc. (around the puppy's tail,)" he says. "That's my concern. That we are going to go back to that because there is someone always there willing to fill that vacuum. Philosophically, I don't disagree with the new policy. Practically, I don't agree with it until it is made illegal and enforced."