Debarking is a controversial procedure in which a dog’s vocal cords are cut to eliminate its ability to bark. The procedure has been performed for some time. But The New York Times reported that it has fallen out of favor with younger veterinarians and animal-rights advocates. And 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The procedure has strong opponents, who call it outdated and inhumane.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 American Veterinary Medical Association, there are currently six states that prohibit devocalization of dogs under certain circumstances. Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey ban the procedure except where it's deemed medically necessary by a licensed veterinarian. Pennsylvania prohibits devocalization unless it's performed by a licensed veterinarian using anesthesia. California and Rhode Island make it unlawful to require the devocalization as a condition for real estate occupancy.
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.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was published in February 2010.