Debarking is a controversial procedure in which a dog’s vocal cords are cut to eliminate its ability to bark. The procedure, like declawing cats, has been performed for some time. But the New York Times recently reported that it has fallen out of favor with younger veterinarians and animal-rights advocates. And recently, certain states have made an effort to ban the controversial procedure.

The Times spoke with Mike Marder, a New York veterinarian who had his dog Nestle debarked after a neighbor threatened to complain to their Upper East Side co-op board about the noisy dog. Nestle used to bark non-stop, and the Marders felt that debarking was the only solution that would allow them to keep the dog with them. Now, instead of barking, Nestle produces “something between a wheeze and a squeak.”

The procedure has strong opponents, who call it outdated and inhumane. Many veterinarians refuse to perform the procedure, and several states are ramping up legislation to outlaw it. According to the NY Times, New Jersey bans devocalization surgery except for medical or therapeutic reasons, as do Britain and other European countries. Similar legislation is pending in Massachusetts.

This controversy over debarking is similar to the one over onychectomy, or declawing in cats. Declawing is often performed on felines to prevent scratching damage. According to sources, onychectomy is prohibited or significantly restricted in most of Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. It is legal in most of the United States, though West Hollywood, California, was the first American city to ban it in 2003. The state of California then passed a law sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association to prohibit such bans in the rest of the state. This went into effect in 2009.

It is unclear if debarking will follow in the legal footsteps of declawing. Dr. Sharon L. Vanderlip, a San Diego veterinarian, told the Times that she has been performing debarking surgeries for more than 30 years. According to Vanderlip, “(the dogs) recover immediately and they don’t ever seem to notice any difference. I think that in certain cases it can certainly save a dog from ending up being euthanized.” But other veterinarians point out complications like excess scar tissue on the cut cords hindering a dog’s ability to breathe.

Experts point out that there are non-surgical ways to curb a dog’s barking, such as including collars that spray citronella every time the dog barks. But some animal owners are undeterred. Terry Albert of Poway, California, rescues dogs and has had two debarked. As she told the NY Times, “You may think it’s horrible … But if I had to give up my dog or get the surgery, I would choose the surgery.”

Noisy dogs often quietly debarked
Procedure involves cutting dog’s vocal cords to silence excessive barking.