SPCA worried about 'loophole' in Animal Protection Act after tail-docking case dismissed

A recent loss in court has the Nova Scotia SPCA calling for changes to the province's Animal Protection Act.

'I really think it would be a good thing to eliminate those procedures,' one retired vet says

A boxer with natural ears. More veterinarians in Canada are speaking out against pet cosmetic surgery, such as removing the tails of puppies and cutting dog ears into points. (Canadian Press)

A recent loss in provincial court has the Nova Scotia SPCA calling for changes to the Animal Protection Act. 

The provincial legislation as it stands has a loophole allowing people who harm animals to escape justice, according to Jo-Anne Landsburg, the chief provincial inspector for the Nova Scotia SPCA. 

She said the problem with the current legislation was highlighted after the SPCA charged a dog breeder with causing distress to puppies. The 35-year-old St. Margaret's Bay woman had allegedly wrapped rubber bands around dogs' tails, blocking circulation until their tails fell off.

Landsburg and the SPCA thought that caused enough distress to the animals to have the breeder charged. The judge disagreed and the defendant was acquitted Tuesday. 

The judge said the legislation only protects animals in distress if the activity causing the distress is not a generally accepted practice of animal husbandry or management. 

Docking — or the removal of a dog's tail — fell under that exemption, according to the judge.  

SPCA officers Sgt. Nancy Noel, left, and Const. Jo-Anne Landsburg, the chief provincial inspector. (Nova Scotia SPCA)

But Landsburg said she's worried the ruling is going to cause problems.

"I'm very concerned that this is going to set a precedent that we're not going to be able to charge people who are performing these veterinary procedures in their homes," she said. 

The Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association banned docking in 2010 and forbids veterinarians in the province from performing the procedure for cosmetic reasons. 

Landsburg said it's time to change the Animal Protection Act to make tail docking and ear cropping in dogs and cats illegal.

Rottweiler's are one of just many breeds who often have their tails docked. (Shutterstock)

Breeders often remove the tails of numerous breeds, like Rottweilers, Boxers and Cocker Spaniels — a practice that is often only done for cosmetic reasons, according to retired Dartmouth veterinarian Markus Stasiulis.  

Animals can develop infections when their tails are docked, he said. Even when the procedure is done in a vet's office, there is a risk of infection, and that risk only increases when the procedure is done in a non-sterile environment like a person's home. 

"I really think it would be a good thing to eliminate those procedures. I think, you know, these animals are good as they are and do not need to have their tails docked and their ears cropped to meet certain fashion standards that we have in the breed," said Stasiulis.

He agrees it's time to change the legislation to give animals that extra layer of protection. 

In the meantime, Landsburg said she hopes the SPCA will appeal the court's decision, though there's no word on when it might be filed.

With files from Information Morning