Lockdown puppy boom
leads to increase
in ear cropping cruelty

Call to close loopholes allowing the practice

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When Sasha, a nine-week-old pocket bulldog, arrived at her emergency foster care placement her ears were infected, swollen and extremely painful. Sasha was seized after she had been seen by a member of the public who called the RSPCA with concerns for her welfare. After an inspector found her with her ears cropped Sasha remained in the care of the charity.

Ear cropping is a painful mutilation, involving cutting off part of the ear flap, often without anaesthesia or pain relief. It is illegal in the UK but still legal in other parts of the world such as the US and some European countries.

The RSPCA has seen a 621 per cent increase in the number of reports of ear cropping in the last six years.

Barbaric practice

Earlier this month a petition to stop the rising number of cropped dogs in the UK reached over 100,000 signatures. Jordan Shelley, director at the FOAL group (Focus on Animal Law) – who launched the petition – said this shows the weight of public support for the campaign.

Shelley began his campaign after contacting companies advertising cropping and was told it was legal to import cropped dogs. With co-directors Nicola Skelley and Sarah Dixon he found other legal loopholes, allowing dogs cropped abroad to be sold onto someone else, and for dogs to be sent abroad to get cropped and then returned home – a surgical “holiday”. “It’s barbaric and needs to be stopped,” said Shelley.

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said dogs have their ears cropped for one reason – to make them look “tougher and more intimidating”.

Historically, breeds such as Dobermans had their ears cropped as puppies and then splinted – taped to bits of wood or cardboard – to make their ears grow upwards instead of leaving them to go floppy. Now, breeds such as American bullies end up having their whole ears removed.

Despite suspecting most dogs are sent abroad to be cropped, the RSPCA still has concerns it is also being carried out underground in this country. One of Shelley’s colleagues who has been a vet for almost 30 years had not previously seen any cropped dogs in their surgery but now they are seeing one or two a week. Shelley said there has been a significant rise in imports throughout Covid with people desperate for puppies.

Gaines would like to see more regulation to ensure it’s no longer possible to get a cropped dog in England and Wales, unless rescuing through a reputable organisation. Shelley called for tougher sentences and for imports to be made illegal.

“There has been a rise of celebrities on social media buying cropped puppies from abroad and posting them on their feeds as ‘normal.’ This is not a normal look,” said Skelley.

According to the RSPCA, cutting a dog’s ears off can not only damage their health but their behaviour. Where a dog’s ears are positioned, also known as their ear carriage, can help people understand if they are anxious, happy or calm. If a dog’s ears have been removed, it can be much harder to know how they feel.

Cut the crop

The FOAL directors have brought together British vets, vet nurses and animal welfare charities to join them in their #FlopNotCrop campaign in a bid to #CutTheCrop.

“We have lots more to do. This is just the start of the campaign to close the legal loopholes,” said Skelley.

Even though Sasha’s ears were cruelly cropped, her foster carer Mark Allen, manager at RSPCA Preston, described her temperament as friendly and happy. He gave Sasha antibiotics and pain relief and she was eventually rehomed. In February 2020, Sasha’s owners pleaded guilty in court and were banned from owning animals indefinitely.

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