Silencing of dogs & cats – Medically

Michelle Mattei

The medical terms for silencing animals are called ventriculocordectomy or vocal cordectomy, and laryngotomy.  It is generally performed on dogs but has occurred on cats as well.  It is also called by such names as; devocalization, debarking, dog muting, demeowing, and bark softening.  This is a barbaric, inhumane procedure to benefit troubled humans.

            The medical procedure performed to achieve this act involves either the removal or cutting the animal’s vocal cords.  There are two surgical approaches to commit this horrible act.  One is cutting into the neck, down through the larynx, called a laryngotomy, where the veterinarian will either sever or remove the vocal cord tissue.  The second approach is called a ventriculocordectomy, where the veterinary goes down through the animal’s mouth to sever or remove the vocal cords.

There are several inherent risks related to these procedures, such as; general anesthesia, post-surgical infection, postoperative pain and discomfort, bleeding, acute airway swelling, respiratory distress, noisy breathing, collapse, increased coughing, webbing, and gagging, significant increase of heat intolerance and compromised airway access.  The lack of barking ability also increases the risk of the dog’s physical safety since it can no longer warn and alert.  This also crosses over to behavioral and psychological issues due to inflicting the inability to communicate verbally.  Overall, these factors lead to a lower quality of life for the victims of these procedures.

            Even when the vocal cord is served, there is the possibility for the animal to regain its ‘voice’ again, only to be put through another operation to remove the vocal cords entirely.  The ‘voice’ of the animal is, in most cases, not totally removed but is replaced with an unnatural sound that is presented as; muffled, wheezing, higher-pitched, rasping, harsher, and screeching.  The ‘voice’ of some of these dogs sound like they are crying out for help in the embedded link.

Who is requesting this procedure to be done?  There are a variety of answers, which are all incomprehensible.  Some breeders recommend this procedure if the potential new owner is concerned with the dog’s purchase due to barking concerns.  Trainers have been known to suggest this procedure with problem dogs that cannot be trained.  Shelters at times turn to this procedure to quiet problem dogs.  Hoarders will use this technique to bring less attention to themselves.  Various institutions where animals are used in experiments make use of this procedure since dogs’ barking have a detrimental effect on the research staff.  Some landlords place devoicing requirements as part of lease conditions to avoid the hassle they will receive from other tenants’ noise complaints.  In other cases, courts will step in and order a dog to be devocalized.

A rational thought such as shouldn’t these procedures be illegal come to mind.  In more than 20 countries, it is unlawful; sadly, there is no Federal statute in the US that makes these procedures illegal.  You would hope that most States would have laws on their books making these reprehensible procedures illegal, but tragically only six States currently offer some marginal protection.  The States of Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey allow this practice if it is determined by a licensed veterinarian to be “medically necessary.”  Pennsylvania allows the procedure with the only stipulation that the procedure is done by a licensed veterinarian utilizing anesthesia.  The Statues in California and Rhode Island are also very weak; they only speak to disallowing the practice if it is a condition in a real estate agreement.

Logic would turn to the veterinary community to speak out against these procedures; they do to some extent.  The American Animal Hospital Association states that it “is opposed to the practice known as debarking, canine devocalization, or vocal cordectomy.  Devocalization for inappropriate and excessive vocalization is often ineffective in achieving the desired results and can deprive canines of performing a normal behavior. Appropriate behavioral modification efforts should be employed that avoid the use of punishment or aversive methods. When deemed necessary, devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative to relinquishment or euthanasia. Exceptions to this statement would be in the rare case of airway obstruction or laryngeal paralysis, which cannot be addressed through other surgical procedures.”  The American Veterinary Medical Association takes a similar stance.  The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association provides only a Devocalization Fact Sheet.  The six-page fact sheet offers no stance on the procedure; they refer you to discuss your concerns with your licensed veterinarian.  The Devocalization Fact Sheet does make reference to veterinary schools stating that that the “devocalization procedures are not widely included in veterinary medical school curricula.”  You would hope that the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AVMC) would offer some type of position on devocalization, they do not.  The AVMC also does not provide a stance on ear cropping, cat declawing, or tail docking.

         

  Dogs do not bark intentionally to annoy humans; they use their bark as their ‘voice’ to communicate various emotions and appeals.  They voice to say “hello” to humans and non-humans and directly to their own kind.  They use their ‘voice’ to ask for help, to alert others that someone else needs help, they alert to danger for themselves and others.  Can their ‘voice’ get annoying at times? Yes, just like when humans do not know when to hold their ‘voice.’ 

There are many viable and proven alternatives to reduce or eliminate unwanted barking rather than the inhumane extreme of devoicing.  Basic training of the dog as well as the human companion can generally resolve the issue.  Other options include; environmental enrichment, exercise, doggy daycare, soundproofing, ultrasonic devices, Thunder Shirts, DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) diffusers, no-bark collars that dispense citronella, and even the use of static shock collars if used appropriately.  There should be no case for devocalization with all these alternatives unless the only other approach offered is euthanasia.

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