Whether it’s a pet or a show dog, certain breeds of canines have traditionally had their ears and tails altered surgically at a young age.
But, those procedures are now the subject of intense scrutiny by many veterinarians who say chopping off parts of puppies is cruel and unnecessary.
Jake and XO are two friendly Doberman Pinschers. Jake has floppy ears and a long tail - the way Doberman’s are born - but XO’s tail is just a tiny nub. It was cut off -- or docked, while his ears were surgically cropped so they stick up straight.
At dog shows like the world famous Westminster Kennel Club, cropped ears and docked tails are the standard for several breeds. But now, these surgical procedures have become points of bitter dispute.
Cindee Byer and her husband, Joe, have been breeding champion Dobermans for years and they believe that tradition demands that their pure bred dogs have cropped ears and docked tails.
“I do it because I want the very best for my dog,” she said. “I am about preservation for my breed, so tradition is important to me.”
Others disagree, like veterinarian Douglas Aspros of Pound Ridge, New York who calls the practice unnecessary and cruel.
“Ear cropping, tail docking are purely cosmetic procedures, and we're doing it for us. We're not doing it for our dogs,” he said. “It’s amputation. It’s removal of a body part, and it's very much like removing joints in your finger.”
Tail docking is done when the puppies are just a few days old without anesthesia because their nerve endings aren't fully developed. Supporters say the puppies barely feel it. The ears are cropped months later with anesthesia.
Certain veterinary schools refuse to teach the procedures and many vets won't do it. At a recent dog show in Maryland, many of the dogs had cropped ears and docked tails. Their owners defended the practice.
“A boxer is a guard dog,” says Beth, who raises boxers. “They're supposed to be strong and forceful and fierce. And when they have the floppy ears they kind of look like a Disney character.”
Still, not everyone agrees. Mary Ridgely is also a breeder. “When I first looked at getting a show dog I eliminated all dogs that you have to cut parts off of puppies, because I really didn't want to do that.”
The American Kennel Club insists that "ear cropping" and "tail docking" preserves historic breeds and promotes good health.