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NEW: Senate Leader Ruggerio Introduces Legislation to Ban Animal Devocalization

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Calling it inhumane to take away an animal’s voice for any reason other than medical urgency, Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio has introduced legislation to regulate devocalization of dogs and cats.

Devocalization, also known as “debarking,” is a surgical procedure that permanently takes away the ability for dogs and cats to bark and purr. Instead of a loud audible bark or purr, a hoarse raspy whisper will be produced. To perform the surgery, a direct incision at the animal’s neck is made, and vocal cords are taken out. Risks involved include difficulty breathing, chronic gagging, pneumonia and infection.

“This act is inhumane for any animal to go through. It is more inhumane to realize that, most often, it is for the benefit of the pet’s owner or breeder. This act should be restricted to a medical necessity,” said Senator Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, Providence, North Providence).

Legislation introduced by Senator Ruggerio, 2012-S 2193, would allow devocalization in the state only if a licensed veterinarian has deemed it a medical necessity for the animal. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture.

Owners sometimes seek the procedure for a variety of reasons, said Senator Ruggerio, but it is more often breeders who have dogs and cats devocalized for their own convenience. Devocalizing enables breeders to keep large numbers of pets in their home, with minimal noise. It is also done to allow dog show exhibitors to transport animals without much noise.

The procedure is outlawed as a form of mutilation in nations, such as the United Kingdom, that have signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. Massachusetts became the first state to ban devocalization when, in 2010, the state enacted “Logan’s Law,” named for a debarked sheepdog.

Under the Ruggerio proposal, only licensed veterinarians in the state, using anesthesia, would be allowed to surgically debark or silence a dog or cat upon certification the procedure is medically necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease or injury or correct a congenital abnormality that is causing harm or pain to the animal.

Any person found in violation would face a fine of $1,000 and could be barred by a court from owning or possession of any animals and required to take humane education, pet ownership and dog training classes. Any person or business selling a dog or cat for profit would be required to disclose whether the animal has been devocalized and provide a veterinarian-signed certificate showing the procedure was done for medical necessity.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown), Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick).

Majority Leader Ruggerio has introduced two other pieces of legislation this session relating to animals and animal husbandry.

2012-S 2191 would prohibit the unlawful confinement of calves raised for veal or sows during gestation in a manner that prevents them from turning around freely, lying down, standing up or fully extending their limbs.

2012-S 2192 would prohibit the docking of the tails of a bovine by anyone other than a veterinarian for veterinary purposes.

Both bills are also before the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture.


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as the state goes down the tubes.......

Comment #1 by john paycheck on 2012 02 01

If this was the 70's, this guy would have been an capo in the mob.

Comment #2 by Odd Job on 2012 02 01

What do we need this guy in office for, the people have real needs, like jobs, reduce waste, fraud and backroom deals. Get him out, bark or no bark.

Comment #3 by Gary Arnold on 2012 02 02

Is this all he has to work on?

Comment #4 by cheryl Lopes on 2012 02 02

This one I can agree with I see no reason to alter an pet animal.

Comment #5 by Wuggly Ump on 2012 02 02

I’m not sure what Sen. Ruggerio’s motivation is to push for this legislation; perhaps it is truly altruistic. Unfortunately, like other opponents of bark softening, the Senator fails to offer a reasonable, rational objection to the procedure. The move to ban “devocalization” has been fueled by animal rights activists, depicting the procedure as painful, cruel or mutilating, yet they have failed to produce any verifiable research to support such a claim.

Devocalization is a misnomer, since dogs who undergo this quick, simple procedure can still bark, just not as loudly. The dog is lightly anesthetized and the vet does down the throat and makes one or two SMALL notches in the vocal folds, using a biopsy punch, cautery tool or laser (the last two result in absolutely NO bleeding). As I have personally seen this procedure done, I can attest to the technique with far more accuracy than the alarmists who are pushing to make this procedure illegal. Groups like the Animal Law Coalition post a document on their website claiming that vets who don't do bark softening have the expertise to comment on complications. Also, they rebut the claim that bark softening helps prevent dogs from being surrendered to shelters as bark softened dogs can be found in shelters. While I agree with this assertion, one must also point out that they are almost certainly not being turned in because of the barking. Excess barking is only one reason why dogs are surrendered to shelters and not the leading reason.

In discussing bark softening, it’s important to discuss canine communication since the emotional cry of “taking away a dog’s voice” is a major component in the misleading information spouted by AR groups in an effort to sway the general public. Barking is only one type of canine communication and in fact, not the major means used. Dogs communicate with body language, smell and a series of yips and growls that bark softened dogs are capable of, even following the surgery.

All surgeries have inherent risks that include infection and hemorrhage. While difficulty breathing, chronic gagging or difficulty eating/swallowing can occur, the incidence is extremely rare. When compared to spay/neuter surgery, the risk of complications is significantly less and the side effects infinitesimally lower.

The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes legislation that will make this procedure illegal. Their official position on bark softening is:

(Approved by the AVMA Executive Board June 2002; reaffirmed April 2008; oversight: Animal Welfare Committee)
Canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.

So, here we have the predominant veterinary medical association saying exactly what proponents of bark softening have been saying for years; bark softening is a valid alternative to dealing with excessive barking in dogs when other forms of training have failed.

I am a dog breeder. I have 5 adult Shetland Sheepdogs with only two of those are utilized for breeding purposes. I breed an average of one litter every other year. Of the five, two are bark softened. At the time when they underwent the procedure, I lived in the suburbs and had neighbors who complained about the barking. As shelties are a breed that is genetically hardwired to bark, I faced repeated visits from police. Once I demonstrated the volume of the barking to the officers, I was no longer subjected to police visits. (There is a funny story here that I will spare you for brevity’s sake.)

More importantly, I was involved in sheltie rescue in Ohio for several decades and had many owners contact me regarding problems with excessive barking; more than a few were facing citations and/eviction. When conventional training methods failed, I referred owners to veterinarians skilled in performing this procedure and in each case, the person was able to keep their dog.

Comment #6 by Gael Silverman on 2012 02 13

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.