"Debarking" dogs is cruel, inhumane and wrong

Dogs bark. Some bark a little. Some bark a lot. Some bark incessantly. But all of them bark.

And incessant barking can become a nuisance. But often, it can be mitigated via training and management.

An appeals court in Oregon doesn't seem to understand this. The court of appeals has upheld a previous ruling that a couple must cut the vocal cords — a procedure known in veterinary medical terms as "ventriculocordectomy," but is commonly referred to as "debarking" — of the dogs they breed and use to protect their sheep. 

This is a case that goes back a ways. In 2004 and 2005, the couple was cited by Jackson County, Ore. for allowing their dogs to bark incessantly and violate a county noise ordinance. The couple argued that the ordinance doesn't apply because their land is actually a farm, which falls under different ordinances. The courts have so far disagreed, however, and the couple was fined and ordered to debark the dogs or move them to a different area of the farm.

It's unclear, according to the Washington Post article I linked above, whether the dogs were debarked, but in 2012, neighbors filed a lawsuit against the couple, claiming necessary actions had not been taken to prevent or control the barking. In 2015, a jury sided with the neighbors and ordered the couple to debark the dogs and though the couple appealed, the appeals court ruled that the lower court's ruling should stand.

Now, it certainly seems like the couple with the dogs has not done enough to control or mitigate the barking. Rather, they simply keep suggesting that the noise ordinances should not apply because the dogs are on a farm. There's no evidence at all that they have tried any sort of training or behavior modification. There's no evidence at all they have had the dogs examined by a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to ensure the incessant barking isn't indicative of a larger medical issue.

That said, the failure of the owners should not cause the dogs to suffer. Debarking is regarded among groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States as a medically unnecessary procedure. Per an ASPCA policy statement:

"Normal companion animal behaviors such as barking in dogs and even biting in some circumstances, and scratching and spraying in cats, may be considered very undesirable by their guardians. The ASPCA believes that a combination of training and environmental management is the appropriate way to resolve these so-called nuisance behaviors [see Training Aids/Methods and Behavioral Pharmacology]. The ASPCA does not support the use of surgical procedures that attempt to circumvent the behavioral issue while exposing pets to unnecessary discomfort and risk."

Debarking is cruel. It's inhumane. It's wrong. Dogs bark. It's an important method of communication. Should the owners have to do something to mitigate their dogs' nuisance barking? Absolutely. But is debarking the answer? Definitely not.

I would be ok with the courts ordering the couple to get their dogs into some sort of training program designed to mitigate the barking. I would be just fine with the courts ordering the owners to put the dogs on some kind of medication if a vet or veterinary behaviorist can determine that the barking is due to an unresolved medical and/or neurological issue of some sort.

But forcing the dogs to undergo an invasive, painful and medically unnecessary surgical procedure? That's just wrong.

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