My daughter and I were talking last week about what other interesting topics I could write about. And then, she remembered the horrifying issue she saw in the internet—- debarking or ‘bark softening’ as how others sugarcoat it.
I firmly believe that everything, every trait, that is given to a certain specie is needed for it to survive. That taking away one part will definitely affect the whole, one way or another.
I also believe in man’s ability to develop science and technology in order to improve the living conditions and the lives of all living beings on this planet, particularly in resolving problems that threaten the survival of “any” specie. If that is the only intention. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Having read the science behind this so-called, “debarking,” I can understand the need for it ONLY in cases where it would definitely save the dog’s life. But in cases where it is requested to be done on a dog just for the convenience of the owner, then that is clearly a monstrous act. In such a case, neither the right nor the welfare of the animal is protected.
What is debarking or bark softening?
In the article of Charlotte McGowan entitled “Debarking (Bark Softening) – Myths and Facts,” it is described as a surgical procedure to reduce tissue in the vocal cords. To remove tissue, some vets use a punch. Other surgeons make varying-sized cuts, while some still use a laser. The surgery’s goal is to reduce the volume of the dog’s bark and the ability of the bark to reach a long distance.
Debarking is medically referred to as venticulocordectomy. It is described in small animal surgery textbooks primarily for therapeutic purposes, such as laryngeal paralysis and the removal of vocal fold masses. Meaning, the procedure is deemed necessary to be performed on the dog by veterinarians if its actual barking poses a medical threat to its health. This is what American Veterinary Association (AVMA) is saying in their article, “Welfare Implications of Canine Devocalization”.
Barking is a natural behavior in dogs. Auditory cues supplement visual and postural cues as a form of communication, particularly when visual cues are obscured. Dogs can bark while playing, greeting, warning, gaining attention, or working. And, excessive barking is frequently associated with an underlying dog welfare issue, as AVMA puts it.
In other words, AVMA is saying, “it is not the dog’s fault if he is barking too much”. The AVMA emphasizes that devocalization reduces the noise associated with barking but not the motivation or behavior.
The risks of debarking
According to the AVMA, devocalization is performed under general anesthesia which has inherent risks and associated mortality. They also state that, as with any surgical procedure, pain and discomfort may occur during the healing process. Following vocal cord surgery, patients may experience bleeding, acute airway swelling, infection, coughing, gagging, and aspiration pneumonia. After laryngeal surgery, there is a significant risk of scar tissue and glottis stenosis (throat narrowing).
However, the AVMA reports that resumption of a near normal bark can occur within months. And I find this to be quite amusing!
How do you reduce excessive barking?
According to the AVMA, identifying the underlying cause of excessive barking is critical so that targeted therapies can be used, and this requires a thorough behavioral history. Punishment may deter behavior, but it has no effect on motivation. Hitting and yelling are counterproductive and unacceptable.
Because social facilitation can play a role in chain reactions of barking behavior, having more dogs in close proximity may increase nuisance barking. AVMA suggests that noise levels in large kennel facilities can be successfully reduced by good building and pen design, changing husbandry techniques, and implementing appropriate socialization and training programs.
Which organizations or institutions prohibit debarking?
The AVMA, along with many other veterinary organizations, including the American Animal Hospital Association and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, oppose non-therapeutic devocalization of dogs unless behavioral modifications and management methods have failed and as a last resort to surrender or euthanasia.
The AVMA also informs us that “carrying out a procedure which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, other than for the purpose of its medical treatment” is an offense under the United Kingdom’s Animal Welfare Act (2006).
The AVMA also cites the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals which includes devocalization among the surgical procedures that are prohibited “for the purpose of modifying the appearance of a pet animal or for other non-curative purposes.”
The AVMA says, there are currently four states with laws prohibiting dog devocalization under certain conditions. Devocalization is illegal in Massachusetts and New Jersey unless it is deemed medically necessary by a licensed veterinarian. Devocalization of any dog for any reason is illegal in Pennsylvania unless performed under anesthesia by a licensed veterinarian. Furthermore, California and Rhode Island have made it illegal to make devocalization a mandatory condition of real estate occupancy for tenants who own dogs.
Debarking is not mentioned as a procedure that should be prohibited in the Philippines. But we all know it has to be because it is clearly a cruel act against dogs. So, in order for this to be included in an amendment to our Animal Welfare Act, we must all work together to petition for it. Mariana Burgos