Devocalization

Today’s topic is one we became very familiar with after picking up a stray who had no voice. Duke was our resident De-barked dog. What should have been a strong bark sounded like a squeaker toy. Understand the facts on Devocalization and determine for yourself if it should be illegal like it is in other countries!

Basic Info:

Devocalization (also known as ventriculocordectomy or vocal cordectomy) is a surgical procedure applied to dogs and cats, where tissue is removed from the animal’s vocal cords in order to permanently reduce the volume of their vocalizations. When performed on dogs, it is often called debarking or bark softening.

The procedure is outlawed as a form of mutilation in the United Kingdom and all countries that have signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. In the United States, devocalization is illegal in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Warwick, Rhode Island. Efforts to ban devocalization are underway in other states.

Procedure and risks:

The procedure may be performed via the animal’s mouth, with a portion of the vocal folds removed using a biopsy punch, cautery tool, scissor, or laser. The procedure may also be performed via an incision in the throat and through the larynx, which is a more invasive technique. (Ouch.) All devocalization procedures require general anesthesia.

Risks and side effects include negative reaction to anesthesia, infection, bleeding, and pain. There is also the risk of the removed tissue growing back, or of scar tissue blocking the throat, both requiring further surgeries, though with the incisional technique, the risk of fibrosis is virtually eliminated. Most devocalized dogs have a subdued “husky” bark.

Factors:

Chronic, excessive vocalization may be due to improper socialization or training, stress, boredom, fear, or frustration. Up to 35% of dog owners report problems with barking, which can cause disputes and legal problems. The practice is more common among some breeds of dog, such as the Shetland Sheepdog (or “Sheltie”), which are known as loud barkers (due to the nature of the environment in which the breed was developed).

Some breeders seek the surgery in order to limit or diminish noise levels for personal reasons ranging from convenience to prevention; some breeders even seek the surgery for puppies prior to going to new homes.

Controversy:

The subject of convenience devocalization is controversial. Opinions of medical organizations and humane societies vary. Multiple animal medicine and animal welfare organizations discourage the use of convenience devocalization, recommending that it only be used as a last resort. However, organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, oppose laws that would make devocalization illegal.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s official position states that “canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) agrees, recommending that animal caretakers first attempt to address animal behavior problems with humane behavior modification techniques and/or with a treatment protocol set up by an animal behavior specialist. The ASPCA recommends surgery only if behavior modification techniques have failed, and the animal is at risk of losing its home or its life.

Other animal activists see this surgery as unnecessary and cruel, seeing the many side effects and risks.

Legal restriction and banning:

The legality of convenience devocalization varies by jurisdiction.

United Kingdom:

Debarking is specifically prohibited in the UK, along with ear cropping, tail docking, and declawing of cats. By law, convenience devocalization is considered a form of surgical mutilation.

United States:

In the United States, laws vary by state. In the year 2000, anti-debarking legislation was proposed in California, New Jersey, and Ohio. The California and New Jersey bills failed, partially due to opposition from groups who predicted the ban would lead to similar bans on ear cropping and other controversial cosmetic surgical procedures on dogs. The Ohio bill survived, and was signed into law by Governor Robert Taft in August 2000. However, Ohio Revised Code 955.22 only outlawed debarking of dogs considered “vicious” – (Pits, Dobies, Rotties, Boxers, etc.)

In February 2009, 15-year-old Jordan Star of Needham, Massachusetts, filed a bill to outlaw performing convenience devocalization procedures upon cats and dogs. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Scott Brown, with the title Logan’s Law, after a debarked sheepdog. Star said of convenience devocalization: “To take a voice away from an animal is morally wrong.” The bill became state law on April 23, 2010. The surgery has also has become outlawed in parts of Rhode Island in 2011.

Legislation to ban devocalization of dogs and cats in New York State is underway.

Meet Duke:

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Duke was picked up by us in August of 2012. He was already de-barked and had a crooked foot from a previous injury that was never treated. Duke has loads of personality, and no matter how hurt he may have been in the past, he is happy and excited to be around people.

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(Duke and I, January 2013)

Duke is proof that devocalizing animals DOES NOT keep them off the streets or out of shelters. His former owner devocalized him and still dumped him after. And Duke is not the only one. Countless pets are dumped or surrendered, even after devocalized. Many of those animals are left to suffer from serious side effects of the surgery.

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(Duke in his new backyard, April 2013)

Duke is now happy at home with Shelter Link volunteer, Dawn. Her and her husband adopted him the beginning of this month, after months of her taking him out and falling in love.

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