Taking Your Pet's Voice Through Surgery

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Taking Your Pet�s Voice Through Surgery

Imagine opening your mouth and not being able to get out much more than a raspy cough or a squeaky voice.

That’s what comes out of a dog’s mouth after it has been debarked.

Debarking or devocalizing surgery is the process used to cut into a dog’s larynx in order to quiet or completely silence a dog’s bark. The procedure is not recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) unless all other efforts to modify a dog’s behavior have been tried.

Still, thousands of dogs and, to a lesser extent, cats lose their voices to the surgery every year.

Devocalizing or debarking dogs has been around for generations, but the controversial procedure is increasingly becoming a target for animal rights groups and animal lovers across the United States.

Other countries have already banned the procedure and the surgery is no longer taught in veterinary schools.

There is currently a petition on change.org asking the AVMA to decree devocalization surgery as inhumane.  

According to a story on NBC.com, the women who started the petition both have dogs that have been devocalized. Porter, a black Newfoundland, was debarked by a surgery described as the least invasive. Porter's previous owner had the surgery performed.

Porter’s current owner, Sue Perry, has had to spend $2,000 thus far on surgery to remove scar tissue from Porter’s throat, which was choking him to death.

The co-founder of the petition, Karen Mahmud, has a Chihuahua named Lola who can only get out a little raspy squeak when she barks. Mahmud says that like most dogs that have had the surgery, Lola constantly coughs and gags like a chain smoker.

Advocates for the surgery say that it has helped save the lives of dogs that bark constantly because those dogs might otherwise have been dumped into shelters or euthanized. They also say it is an uncommon procedure.

Opponents of the surgery, such as Perry and Mahmud, as well as many veterinarians, say it takes away from a dog’s natural ability to communicate, puts dogs through unnecessary pain and suffering, and is often used as a lazy way to modify behavior.

In doing some research on this surgery, I noticed that most of the proponents for this procedure are dog breeders or people in the dog show world. One breeder even wrote that he devocalizes all of his dogs and requires all of the people who bring dogs for him to show do the same.

Charlotte McGowan, a dog breeder in the Boston, Mass. area (a state where the procedure is now banned), even goes as far as to compare devocalization to a spay/neuter procedure. “Talk about what’s cruel here,” McGowan told NBC. “A convenient surgery is neutering your dog.”

As an advocate who has worked in animal rescue, I can attest that spay/neuter does save animal lives; it is not for the convenience of the owner, breeder, or show handler. Neutering prevents unwanted dogs and cats from being born and dumped into shelters and is a matter of social responsibility when tax payers are paying billions of dollars every year to round up, shelter, and then kill some 6 million unwanted pets per year in municipal kill shelters.  

I have the same opinion toward people who cannot have a dog that barks or does not want them to bark as I did when I took our red Dachshund, Molly, into my arms when she was relinquished by her former owner.

The woman handed her to me with the most disgusted look. “We don’t like dogs that lick,” she said.

I smiled sweetly and said, “If you don’t like dogs that lick, dogs that bark, or dogs that poop, then you probably shouldn’t have a dog, because this is what they do.”

If you live in an area or building where a barking dog might be a problem, you should research and get a dog that doesn't bark, or possibly get a cat. Researching the type of animal you should get that fits your current lifestyle — without having to put the animal through a painful and potentially harmful surgery — is part of responsible pet parenting.

As for breeders and show handlers, I would think that the people who breed these dogs and show them because of their purported “love of the breed” would understand the breed and show them the same unconditional love for who they are as dogs show for us.


Editor’s Note: Image by Flickr user Soggydan.  

What do you think of devocalizing a dog or cat?