JoAnna Lou
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Banning Debarking
Mass. House approves a bill prohibiting a controversial surgery

Last week the Massachusetts’ House of Representatives approved a bill banning debarking surgeries by an overwhelming margin of 155-1. If approved by the Senate, the bill would make Massachusetts the first state to put such a law in place.

HR 344 prohibits the devocalization of dogs and cats unless a licensed veterinarian deems the procedure medically necessary. 

I realize that debarking, as with any surgery, puts animals at a risk. In most cases, devocalization is unnecessary and the problem can often be solved with training. But what about when a barking problem is coming between keeping a beloved pet and adding yet another pup to the growing shelter population?   

A year and a half ago, one of my friends added a puppy to her family. Despite her efforts to socialize him and bring him to puppy classes, he started to become reactive to everything -- dogs, people, and even the television. 

She’s dedicated the last year to working on counter conditioning, reading books and watching DVDs on the topic, taking him to group classes and private sessions with a professional trainer, but she’s only made marginal progress. 

Now the behavioral problem is starting to jeopardize her housing situation and makes it difficult to even walk her dog down the street. Debarking has been suggested to her, but it’s obviously not an easy decision. She’s hesitant, but her options are running out.

I think there are good reasons for the debarking ban, and I don’t think devocalization should ever be a matter of convenience to replace training, but I’m not sure if debarking should be entirely banned.

Where do you stand?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.


CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by @psychicleaking | March 12 2010 |

good in one way but probably going to increase the number of dogs in shelters unfortunately as people are unwilling to to the work

Submitted by Ann | March 12 2010 |

Sometimes in our overzealous commitment to "do right" by animals we unwittingly cause more harm than good. I believe this ruling will ultimately reflect that. This is not an inexpensive surgery so it would seem that the majority of people selecting this option are probably owners who care a great deal about their dogs. It seems to me that each barking case has different causes requiring different solutions and by making debarking illegal, those thinking they are eliminating inhumane treatment by voting for this measure may be imposing a death sentence on many pets. Debarking should never be chosen before all other options have been exhausted but that being said, debarking may be the only and last option for a dog who is an obsessive barker. I myself have such a dog. He is, I like to say, a "drama queen." In other words, every emotion, objection and irritation is expressed with persistent, loud and obnoxious barking. Although I have no plans to do this surgery, I can completely empathize with someone considering this as a last resort facing the worst alternative of losing their pet. My boy is in an advanced level of obedience training and performs his duties to perfection. Yet, he is a constant barker who must display every emotion. I worry about neighborhood complaints so we have chosen to test a bark collar that he must wear during the evening hours to reduce his need to, shall we say, "express himself." We love him dearly but he can be a pain sometimes. So, I think if a pet owner has only two final choices between debarking or surrendering their pet to the pound I would chose the former rather than the latter. If the option of debarking is no longer available to them it will be the dog who suffers.

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