By Cynthia Hubert
March 17, 2005
They were not always that way.
At birth, Mia's ears were as floppy as a cocker spaniel's. Her new look required surgery to remove part of her ear flaps, followed by weeks of propping, wrapping and taping.
The process is known as cropping, and for centuries it has been performed commonly on certain breeds of dogs. But momentum is building for an end to the practice, which animal activists and some veterinarians call cruel and unnecessary. Many countries around the world have banned cropping, and California would become the first state in this nation to do so if a controversial legislative bill passes.
Teri Barnato of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, which is backing the bill, said cropping is painful, risky and frivolous. "There is absolutely no reason for it," Barnato said. "People don't have the right to inflict cruelty on an animal."
But dog fanciers like Mia's owner, Adrian Woodfork of Sacramento, plan to fight the measure with the tenacity of pit bull terriers. They argue that cropping is not unduly uncomfortable for dogs and is an aesthetically pleasing trademark of certain breeds, including Dobermans, Great Danes, schnauzers, boxers and others.
"Dobermans traditionally were watch dogs and guard dogs, and cropping served a purpose," making it more difficult for intruders to grab their ears, said Woodfork. "As guardians of the breed, we pay attention to these things," said Woodfork, who shows and judges Dobermans.
Thousands of Californians own dogs that customarily have cropped ears, said Barnato. Nationally, about 130,000 such purebred dogs are registered with the American Kennel Club. "That's just a fraction of the actual number," because countless other dogs are unregistered, she said.
Wayne Sheldon of the Sacramento Council of Dog Clubs said most breeders view the legislation as a potential infringement on their rights. Woodfork agreed.
Although the AKC's rules do not discriminate against dogs with uncropped ears, most fanciers prefer the cropped look, he said. "I would guess that about 99 percent of Dobermans shown in United States are cropped," said Woodfork.
"Basically it's a matter of choice. If people want to crop a dog's ears, they should be able to do it."
The AKC is on Woodfork's side. A cropping ban in California would set "a dangerous negative precedent," said Gina DiNardo Lash, the organization's spokeswoman in New York. It could be the first step toward "allowing the government to have more and more control over how responsible owners keep and enjoy their dogs," Lash said.