Banfield, The Pet Hospital, the nation's largest network of animal hospitals, has announced it will no longer do tail docking, ear cropping or devocalization on dogs.
Headquartered in Portland, Ore., Banfield is the nation's largest general veterinary practice, with more than 730 hospitals and 2,000 veterinarians nationwide.
Devocalization, or de-barking, is a rare procedure and has long been controversial. It involves the full or partial removal of a dog's vocal chords to keep it from barking.
Tail docking and ear cropping, both quite common, have become more controversial over the past few years. Last year, the American Veterinary Medical Association passed a resolution opposing ear cropping and tail docking of dogs, "when done solely for cosmetic purposes," and encouraging the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.
Banfield has come out strongly against the procedures.
"After thoughtful consideration and reviewing medical research, we have determined it is in the best interest of the pets we treat, as well as the overall practice, to discontinue performing these unnecessary cosmetic procedures," says Karen Faunt, vice president for medical quality advancement. "It is our hope that this new medical protocol will help reduce, and eventually eliminate, these cosmetic procedures altogether."
The hospitals will continue to carry out the surgeries on pets for which it is medically necessary, she says.
There have been numerous attempts in several states, most recently Illinois, New York and Vermont, to outlaw the practice of tail docking and ear cropping. The American Kennel Club has fought such laws.
In statements opposing them, the AKC says that "as prescribed in certain breed standards, (they) are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health and preventing injuries," and that "any inference that these procedures are cosmetic and unnecessary is a severe mischaracterization that connotes a lack of respect and knowledge of history and the function of purebred dogs."
Gina Spadafori, an editor at the website PetConnection.com, says that tail docking is still fairly common, in part because it's done within days of birth. Ear cropping, which is generally done when the puppy is between 12 and 14 weeks old, is fading, in part because "people are not comfortable seeing their puppies taped up like that."
Both docking and cropping have gone out of fashion in Europe, she says. In the USA, many breeders of show dogs "would happily stop doing it if they thought they could still win in the ring."