Ear cropping is illegal in England & Wales under the Animal Welfare Act but, since 2015, the RSPCA has been receiving more reports and tip-offs about dogs having their ears removed. In a bid to stem the illegal activity, the RSPCA is urging the public never to buy a dog with cropped ears as the charity has seen a surge in the number of reports coming into its cruelty hotline about the illegal practice.
In 2015, the charity had just 14 reports of ear cropping but, last year, 36 reports came through the charity’s cruelty hotline – that’s a 157% increase over just two years.
It is illegal, under Section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, to crop a dog’s ears but the charity fears that images shared on social media, especially from the USA and in Europe where the practice is legal or unregulated in many states/countries, celebrity culture and an increase in bull breeds seen in advertising is making the ‘look’ more popular.
The charity’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) research and intelligence team saw a significant spike in the number of reports from members of the public in 2017 claiming that dogs are having their ears cropped in the UK illegally, that dogs are being sent abroad to have the procedure done, or that people are buying dogs from other countries in order to get around the laws.
An SOU officer – who works covertly so cannot be identified for operational reasons – said: “Dogs with cropped ears are coming to our attention for lots of reasons. Many are being advertised on social media while others are being spotted at breed shows.
“We believe ear cropping is being carried out illegally in this country. And we also believe that many breeders, sellers and buyers are sending dogs abroad to have their ears cropped before bringing them back home.
“This is going on within certain close-knit breed groups so we believe that many cases are slipping through the net unnoticed and that the issue is actually much bigger than we are aware.”
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Ear cropping is a process where ears are removed or surgically altered, usually for the purposes of appearance.
“It’s a painful and wholly unnecessary process which does not benefit the dog in any way and can, in fact, be detrimental to their health, behaviour and welfare.
“We do not believe dogs should be mutilated for cosmetic purposes and we’d urge people not to buy a dog with cropped ears as – whether the process was carried out here or overseas – they still will have undergone this very painful process.”
There is a concerning trend for certain bull breed types to have cropped ears such as American bullies, Cane Corsos, Presa Canarias and Dobermans. Often, dogs are having their ears cropped as puppies, sometimes as young as six-weeks-old.
The RSPCA has a number of ongoing investigations into ear cropping in England and has also had some successful convictions for illegally cropping dogs’ ears. In November 2015, the charity prosecuted a man and woman from Essex for causing unnecessary suffering to a Doberman by splinting (inserting hard wooden or cardboard splints to force the ears to grow upwards) cropped ears.
The animal welfare charity – the UK’s largest and oldest, rescuing more than 8,000 dogs every year – is also seeing more dogs with cropped ears coming into its care.
Neapolitan Mastiff, Eaton is currently being cared for by staff at RSPCA Southridge Animal Centre in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. He was rescued alongside his sibling – both of whom had had their ears cropped – from Birmingham and their previous owner was prosecuted. He is a big boy who now weighs 50kg! He is still being rehabilitated and assessed by staff at the centre before he begins his search for a suitable home.
Anatolian shepherd Sammy was rescued from abroad by his previous owners who had to hand him over to the RSPCA when they could no longer care for him. He is now being looked after at RSPCA Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford & District branch, in West Yorkshire, and is searching for a loving new home. Staff believe the 50kg, 1m-tall pooch lost his ears during his former life in Romania and the suspicion is that his ears were cropped due to his breed. But he’s one of the lucky ones and the painful procedure hasn’t done any lasting damage.
As well as being an extremely unpleasant procedure for dogs to endure, ear cropping can have long-term implications for dogs’ health and welfare.
Dr Gaines added: “Dogs with cropped ears can have ongoing and unnecessary health issues associated with the procedure, such as wound infections. Depending on the breed and type of crop, the mobility of the ear can be altered and their behaviour can also be affected.
“Dogs use many parts of their body to communicate with other dogs and also with people. Their ears are a vital part of this body language so, without them, they can struggle to let other dogs and people know when they’re feeling uncomfortable or anxious. As a result of this, this can lead to problems with aggressive behaviour.”
The RSPCA is today (Tuesday 17 April) launching a campaign calling on any prospective dog owners not buy dogs with cropped ears – and to educate people on the issues around ear cropping and why welfare experts don’t believe people should support this cruel practice.
The RSPCA is aware of four different types of crop which are used for different reasons and within different breeds:
- Battle crop
- Short crop
- Show crop
- Long crop
Chief inspector Mike Butcher, from the RSPCA’s SOU, said: “We’ve been made aware of lots of different breeds in which cropped ears is preferred to leaving the dogs’ ears as they would be naturally.
“There’s a cultural shift in what is popular. Social media, celebrity culture and imagery used in advertising is seeing that trend moving towards these bull breed type dogs, many of which have cropped ears.
“Ear cropping is becoming normalised and that’s something we need to put a stop to.
“We also think that many people simply aren’t aware that ear cropping is illegal. In some cases, people are misleadingly told that a cropped ear is more natural for the dog. That’s why it’s so important to get the right advice and information out there so owners can make informed decisions before buying a dog.”