Alberta veterinarians vote to ban declawing, ear cropping, tail docking surgeries: ‘It’s inhumane’

Click to play video: 'Sweeping changes to veterinary ‘cosmetic’ procedures in Alberta'
Sweeping changes to veterinary ‘cosmetic’ procedures in Alberta
WATCH: Veterinarians in Alberta are banning cosmetic surgical procedures on animals. There's a long list of surgeries that will no longer be done including declawing, ear cropping and tail docking. Jill Croteau reports – Feb 25, 2019

Alberta veterinarians have voted to ban medically unnecessary surgical procedures and to require vets and their staff to report animal abuse and neglect.

The decision was made Sunday in Calgary, where members of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) voted in favour of two resolutions they say will have a significant impact on animal welfare in the province.

Nearly 300 members voted on the resolutions, which passed by 98 per cent.

WATCH: Alberta veterinarians voted to ban surgical procedures that are medically unnecessary.

Click to play video: 'Declawing, ear cropping among pet surgeries banned in Alberta'
Declawing, ear cropping among pet surgeries banned in Alberta

READ MORE: Nova Scotia purebred dog breeders ‘disappointed’ with animal protection changes

Surgery ban resolution

The ban on all unnecessary surgeries includes the following procedures:

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  • ear cropping
  • tail docking (removing portions of an animal’s tail)
  • tail nicking (cutting and resetting a tail ligament to heal in a raised position)
  • tail blocking (numbing or nicking tendons to paralyze the tail)
  • partial digit amputation (also called declawing or onychectomy, in which all or part of the distal phalanges, or end bones, of the animal’s toes are cut off)
  • tendonectomy (removing tendons from a cat’s toes to prevent it from extending the claws, done as an alternative to onychectomy)
  • front dewclaw removal
  • cosmetic dentistry
  • body piercing
  • tattooing that is not for the purpose of registration and identification
  • devocalization (removing tissue from the animal’s vocal cords to permanently reduce the volume of its vocalizations)

Dr. Darrell Dalton, registrar with the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, said there’s no scientific justification for cosmetic surgeries.

“They’re medically unnecessary, they cause unnecessary pain to the animal, and it’s inhumane,” Dalton said.

Some breed clubs and animal fancy groups uphold certain standards that include cropped ears and docked tails, but Dalton said that isn’t justification for the surgeries.

“People who want to maintain the status quo want to maintain tradition, and their arguments aren’t supported by science,” he said.

Some people have claimed there are benefits to docking in dogs who may be more prone to breaking their tail, however Dalton said that argument holds little weight.

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LISTEN: Dr. Darrell Dalton joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss the ABVMA’s ban on unnecessary surgeries

“Tail dockings for preventative reasons aren’t justification for the procedure. It’s less than .23 per cent of animals that sustain such injuries. There’s no medical reason to dock, for instance, 500 tails to prevent one injury,” he said.

“We see a lot of the outcomes that don’t go well as a result of cosmetic surgeries,” said Lisa Olund with the Calgary Humane Society. “It does cause unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal to try and repair them.”

Once passed, Alberta would join several other provinces in restricting or banning medically unnecessary surgical procedures.

According to the ABVMA, PEI’s veterinary profession has banned it; Nova Scotia, within their code of ethics, has banned it; Ontario does not support unnecessary surgery for animals; the B.C. veterinary association has banned it.

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“Veterinarians are subject to discipline if they perform these procedures in these provinces,” Dalton said.

Animal abuse resolution

The other resolution voted on surrounded animal welfare. It obligates vets and veterinary technologists to report cases of animal abuse and neglect, and to take action to address animals in distress.

It covers malicious or inappropriate infliction of physical injury, sexual abuse, mental abuse, poisoning, asphyxia, drowning, and evidence of organized dogfighting.

The ABVMA defines neglect as the failure to provide animals with adequate basic necessities supporting health and well being for extended periods leading to suffering, serious injury or death.

That includes food and water, medical attention when wounded or ill, protection from injurious weather, adequate space, sanitary housing, ventilation and lighting, opportunity for exercise, and a stimulating social environment that prevents the induction of a negative emotional or psychological state.

Dalton said before, definitions of abuse and neglect in the Animal Protection Act were far less clear and veterinarians didn’t have a concrete definition, as it applies to veterinary medicine.

He said the new rules complement existing legislation, while going further by providing specific definitions of animal abuse and neglect.

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“We’ve now provided a clear definition that will be reflected within the general regulation,” Dalton said.

As for when the resolutions go into effect, the ABVMA said the new rules are being sent to the province, and the government would need to change legislation to reflect the changes.

The ABVMA council is working to have new policy in place by the spring. Dalton said at that point, veterinarians would be liable for disciplinary action if they perform medically unnecessary procedures.

“This is an important step forward for our profession and for animal welfare in this province,” Dalton said.

“I’m grateful for our members who have demonstrated such a profound commitment to their role as guardians of animal welfare in our province by voting in favour of these resolutions.”

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) is the professional regulatory organization governing the practice of veterinary medicine in Alberta under the authority of the Veterinary Profession Act.

The ABVMA is responsible for ensuring that all vets in the province are qualified to practise veterinary medicine.

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The ABVMA has more than 1,450 registered veterinarians, and 1,400 registered veterinary technologists practising in over 524 certified veterinary clinics throughout Alberta.

Global News has reached out to the Canadian Kennel Club for its position on the changes in Alberta.

Traci Geremia’s Rottweilers. Global News

Breeder reaction

Dog breeders are weighing in on the issue, saying rules like these take away personal choice.

“I think it’s taking away our freedom and our right to choose what we want to do,” said Peggy Mignon, a great dane breeder in Calgary. “Some of it is personal preference. For my breed, the cropped look gives greater definition to the head and makes the dog look more majestic.”

“We weren’t asking for all the vets to do it,” said Donna Lachance, a giant schnauzer breeder in Calgary. “We were just asking for vets that were doing it to be left alone, for us to continue doing what we do ethically, humanely and in the result of our breed standard.”

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Traci Geremia, a Rottweiler breeder in Calgary, said the ban may not stop people from carrying out the practice and doing so in harmful ways.

“Having someone go into their back garage and butcher a dog’s ears because they have nowhere else to go and they still want to provide an ear-cropped puppy is mortifying and really scary,” Geremia said. “As many of us good breeders there are, there are many more not good breeders who sell to puppy mills.”

Calgary dog breeders Donna Lachance and Peggy Mignon take their dogs for a walk on Monday. Global News

– With files from Jill Croteau

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