Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Help End Convenience Devocalization of Pets

There is a measure currently before the Massachusetts legislature--HB 344, An Act Prohibiting Devocalization of Dogs and Cats--that would end the practice of "de-barking" dogs (and, yes, even "de-meowing" cats) for the convenience of their human guardians.

Opponents of the measure--primarily some people who breed dogs and others who oppose any restrictions whatsoever on what they see as their right to "use" animals in any manner they see fit--argue that preventing people from devocalizing their dogs means more dogs will become homeless and die in animal shelters.

Sadly, the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, is also opposing this measure, arguing that they need to be able to perform the surgery as a last-ditch effort to keep a noisy dog in his home (the measure would allow for devocalization for medical reasons).

Still, veterinarians are not in agreement about this. MSPCA's Angell Animal Medical Center, for instance, refuses to perform this surgery. Veterinarians supporting the bill state that devocalization poses serious risks--from chronic gagging to hemorrhage, infection to aspiration pneumonia. Tissue regrowth may subject the animal to repeated surgeries--all to attempt to stifle a normal behavior.

DPVHS--along with the MSPCA, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, the New England Federation of Humane Societies and most major animal welfare organizations in Massachusetts--has formally endorsed this measure, and here's why:

Not only is “problem barking” not a significant cause for animals being surrendered to animal shelters, “resolving” problem barking through convenience devocalization is like chewing gum to try to solve an algebra problem—it doesn’t work. It might dull the dog’s barking to a horrid rasping sound, but it doesn’t address the significant social, emotional, or physical distresses that cause problem barking in the first place.

For breeds of dogs who are normally considered “talkative,” we recommend the placement of these animals into home environments where vocalization is both expected and accepted as part and parcel of living with a particular breed of dog. Devocalizing naturally talkative dogs--a standard practice for unscrupulous breeders--for the convenience of breed fanciers is an inhumane practice.

As with people, individual dogs have individual needs and personalities. Rather than performing an unnecessary and painful surgery on an animal in order to shoehorn him into an inappropriate living environment, the more humane alternative is to judiciously match a person’s lifestyle with the appropriate dog.

If the person already has the dog but her lifestyle has changed, then addressing the dog’s barking through behavior modification and enrichment is a far more humane alternative than subjecting him to a surgical procedure.

And, failing successful behavior modification, we submit that carefully re-homing the dog into a more appropriate environment—whether through a shelter, a breed-specific rescue, or the person’s own efforts—is a more humane alternative than convenience devocalization. The relatively low population of sheltered dogs throughout New England makes it unlikely that an otherwise well-behaved but noisy dog will be euthanized in a New England animal shelter for lack of a home.

Devocalization doesn’t keep dogs from becoming homeless—few shelters can lay claim to never having housed a devocalized dog. And if the pro-devocalization lobby were truly serious about keeping animals out of shelters, they would be working much harder to address the real reasons animals are in shelters in the first place—lack of accessible and affordable pet sterilization, a lack of pet-friendly housing, free-roaming animals without identification, and people who have unrealistic expectations of their animals’ normal behaviors.

With so many humane alternatives available to help people with noisy pets, allowing people to resort to the “quick fix” of devocalization is inexcusable. Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society urges passage of legislation prohibiting convenience devocalization.

How can you help?

Urge your state representative and senator to support HB 344. Find them at www.wheredoivotema.com.

Show your support by attending the public hearing at the Massachusetts state house on Tuesday, July 14th (call 617-722-1639 up to two weeks prior to confirm the date).