Warning: some readers may find some of the content and images in this story disturbing.
The West Midlands have taken the grisly crown as England's dog ear cropping hotspot, a "cruel and unnecessary" practice the RSPCA is fighting to stamp out - as reports emerge of puppies having their ears cut off with scissors.
The charity is urging Britons to write to their local MPs to urge them to crack down on importing dogs with cropped ears, with the practice creating a "loophole" for people to illegally perform the procedure in the UK.
Now new figures, released as part of the RSPCA's Cancel Out Cruelty campaign, have revealed the English counties with the highest number of dogs reported to have had their ears cropped over the last three years. They show nationwide, 1,191 reports have been made to the RSPCA since 2020. The West Midlands had seen the most cases reported, at 93.
Greater London and West Yorkshire came in second and third at 75 cases each, while Greater Manchester came in fourth at 64 cases. South Yorkshire was fifth, with 53 reported ear croppings.
The RSPCA says ear cropping is a "barbaric" procedure, which in many cases is carried out illegally with no purpose but to make the dog look "tough". Many cases are also likely going unreported, with some people likely not realising dog's ears aren't naturally shaped that way - or that the procedure is illegal.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samatha Gaines said ear cropping is a painful and unnecessary practice, in which a dogs’ ears are removed or surgically altered. "Sadly many owners who do this do it because they think the look is glamorous or it makes their pet look tough.
“But it can be detrimental, in the short and long term, to their health, behaviour and welfare," she continued. "They do not benefit from having it done, and the way it is illegally carried out in the UK - by people who are not vet professionals - is highly likely to lead them to suffer.”
Dr Gaines hit out at social media accounts in particular which prominently display dogs with cropped ears. “We don’t want this cruel procedure - which is essentially dogs being mutilated for money - to be normalised. We are concerned that it is a growing fashion trend and it needs to be stopped.”
Chief inspector at the RSPCA's special operations unit, Ian Muttitt, said his team has seen some at-home DIY ear-cropping horror stories.
“The idea of a person cutting off a dog’s ears with a pair of scissors and no pain relief or anaesthetic is stomach-churning - but that is exactly what they do. And it is even more sickening to know that they are only doing this because they think it will make the dog look ‘tough’ or they can sell the dog for more money."
He urged anyone looking to buy a puppy to remember it was an illegal procedure, and could negatively impact the dogs themselves. "We have seen dogs who have suffered because of the after effects of this cruel procedure. They are at a high risk of infection and discomfort - what’s trendy or fashionable about that?"
The RSPCA has investigated a number of cases where dogs have suffered badly after having the illegal procedure done, including one where a female XL bully puppy's ears became so inflamed and infected that her too-tight sutures cut into her skin, and another where three puppies were found in a comatose state right after having the procedure done - with ketamine and horse sedatives also found nearby.
Last month, NationalWorld's sister title ManchesterWorld reported a man from Urmston was banned from owning animals for two years after he was found to have had his 11-week-old puppy's ears illegally cropped.
Tyrese Dawood's vet noticed his American bully puppy Draco's ears had been cropped between appointments, with his ears previously being "in perfect condition". The man claimed his puppy had been stolen and returned with his ears cropped, but inspectors found no evidence this was true.
While ear cropping is illegal in the UK, it is legal to import a dog with cropped ears. The UK Government had pledged to ban the import of dogs with cropped ears as part of its Kept Animals Bill - but the RSPCA says sadly, the bill was scrapped in May.
The charity is urging people to write to their local MPs, to ask the government to find an alternative plan to ban it as soon as possible - with the practice making it harder for animal welfare investigators to prove people are illegally cropping puppies' ears at home.