Back when I lived in Bedford, in an actual ‘neighborhood’, there was a Bassett hound that lived on the next street. He belonged to the family of the little boy who mowed our lawn. I met the dog one day when I stopped over to pay the kid. As I bent down to pass out a few good-natured pats, I noticed that the Bassett was a very sweet dog, but kept opening and closing his mouth while he wagged his tail and bumped his handsome head against my hands. I finally asked why the dog kept opening and closing his mouth, and I was informed that he had been “debarked”
This information gave me pause.
Not only was my first reaction to be horrified, but I was also confused. Isn’t one of the reason dogs were domesticated is so they can warn us of intruders? Isn’t communication vital to dogs? Don’t they have a wide range of sounds that they voice for various reasons? Don’t some breeds use their voices to herd animals? Don’t police dogs vocalize in alarm and in defense?
“Debarking”, also known as Devocalization, bark softening, ventriculocordectomy and vocal cordectomy, is a surgical procedure where tissue is removed from a dog’s vocal chords to permanently reduce the volume of their vocalizations. It is often referred to as a ‘convenience’ surgery, because it is used by breeders and owners who don’t want to have to deal with complaints over barking dogs.
In 2009, a grassroots organization led by a fifteen-year-old, managed to get a devocalization ban passed in Massachusetts. So far, it is the only state with an enforceable ban. Vocal cordectomy is legal in 49 of the United States. In 2000, Ohio passed Ohio Revised Code 955.22, but inexplicably, it only outlaws debarking of dogs considered “vicious”. New Jersey has a vocalization ban, but there are so many exceptions that the law is unenforceable as written.
Opponents to debarking bans fear that banning devocalization will open up the possibility that other surgeries like ear cropping and tail docking also will be banned. Devocalization, ear cropping and tail docking surgeries are banned in several European countries where they are considered mutilation.
Medical complications associated with devocalization surgery include the formation of scar tissue in the larynx, which can cause difficulties breathing and swallowing.
Multiple veterinary medicine and animal welfare organizations discourage the use of convenience devocalization, and recommend that it only be used as a last resort. If a dog is a problem barker, there is an underlying reason leading to the behavior.
Although no dog – regardless of breed – can be trained to stop barking completely, most dogs can be trained to offer more acceptable behaviors in lieu of barking and other noisy behaviors. If you know someone who is considering devocalizing their dog, please urge them to consult with a veterinarian or to attend sessions with a reputable trainer to address the underlying reason for the dog’s behavior.
If you would like to be part of a grassroots movement to ban dog devocalization in Ohio, please email me at: email@example.com with ‘a voice for Ohio dogs’ in the subject header.