Devocalization: The controversial act of removing dogs' vocal chords

Some dog owners will do anything to keep their pets from barking, including putting them under the knife

Dogs barking
(Image credit: Courtesy Shutterstock)

Anyone who's ever owned a particularly chatty dog, or lived in the same building as one, knows that incessant barking can be a nuisance. While most owners take it upon themselves to teach their dogs good barking etiquette, others are taking a short cut — literally. Surgically removing an animal's vocal chords, a controversial procedure that's been around for decades, is under fire again, as one dog owner, horrified by the results, is petitioning the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) to outlaw the practice. Here, a guide to the uproar:

What exactly is "devocalization"?

Debarking, formally known as ventriculocordectomy, is most often done on dogs, but has also been performed on cats. Targeting the animal's vocal cords either through the mouth or a throat incision near the larynx, a veterinarian severs the cords either partially or completely, typically leaving dogs with a raspy or high-pitched bark.

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Who wants it outlawed?

When Sue Perry, a 58-year-old Connecticut bookkeeper, adopted Porter, a 123-pound Newfoundland, five years ago, she was disturbed by his pained attempts to bark. A vet confirmed that Porter had been devocalized. Perry claims Porter has trouble breathing, gags a lot, and has to be monitored when eating or drinking. (Watch a video of Porter and other devocalized dogs below.) Perry says she's spent more than $2,000 on corrective surgery. "It's horrible, it's horrific," she tells CBS News. "Don't do it. Devocalization should never be an option." Together with another concerned owner, Perry is working with the Coalition to Protect & Rescue Pets to ensure it never is. More than 145,000 people have signed the online petition the women drafted in the hopes of convincing the AMVA, the nation's largest vet organization, to condemn the procedure.

But for now, it's legal?

Debarking is banned in the United Kingdom, but Massachusetts and New Jersey are the only U.S. states to have outlawed it. That said, many veterinarians won't perform the procedure, even if it's legal in their state.

Is debarking bad for dogs?

The procedure, which has no physical benefits, can often lead to complications. According to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the surgery itself comes with higher than normal risk of infection because the larynx and trachea cannot be kept completely sterile during the surgery. In addition, some animals are left with excess scar tissue, known as "webbing," which can create respiratory problems, chronic coughing and gagging. Then there's the moral question of removing an animal's method of communication. "Barking is a normal behavior for animals, and that’s how they communicate,” board certified anesthesiologist Dr. Sheilah Robertson tells CBS News. “Nuisance barking or excessive barking usually has an underlying social issue.”

Sources: CBS News, New York Times, NBC News, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

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