Dogs are born with ears and tails. They should get to keep them.

Dogs are born with ears and tails. They should get to keep them.

Take a look at the beautiful dog above. Can you identify the breed?

Then look at the picture below. What kind of dog is this?

(Mary Bloom via PLOS One)

Both are Doberman Pinschers, one of America’s most popular breeds. But one has floppy ears and a long tail, and one doesn’t. One looks the way Dobermans are born, and one looks the way we’re used to seeing them: With ears and a tail that has been cut by humans.

The procedures are called tail docking and ear cropping, and they’re commonly performed on this breed and many others. But they’re really amputations by other, more euphemistic names. They are said to have started with the Romans, who believed that tails spread rabies and been continued by ranchers, hunters, and dog-fighters who thought they prevented prey or adversaries from downing dogs by the tail or scalping them by the ears.

Today, these surgical changes have become so normal in some breeds that it is difficult even to recognize dogs with intact ears and tails. And they became so normal, discovered Katelyn Mills, that a pretty impressive percentage of Americans probably think dogs are born with a truncated tail and pointed ears.

Mills, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, takes a closer look at medically superfluous animal surgeries – a category that includes cat declawing and dog barking – in a third-grade undergraduate degree. With her animal welfare teacher, Marina von Keyserlingk, and another student, Mills published a review of the scientific literature and the history of mooring and culture at the beginning of the year in the Journal de l American Veterinary Medical Association. In her research, she said, she found that the procedures investigations were based on the opinion of veterinarians and breeders. She wondered how ordinary people perceived them.

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