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Banning Debarking
Mass. House approves a bill prohibiting a controversial surgery

Last week the Massachusetts’ House of Representatives approved a bill banning debarking surgeries by an overwhelming margin of 155-1. If approved by the Senate, the bill would make Massachusetts the first state to put such a law in place.

HR 344 prohibits the devocalization of dogs and cats unless a licensed veterinarian deems the procedure medically necessary. 

I realize that debarking, as with any surgery, puts animals at a risk. In most cases, devocalization is unnecessary and the problem can often be solved with training. But what about when a barking problem is coming between keeping a beloved pet and adding yet another pup to the growing shelter population?   

A year and a half ago, one of my friends added a puppy to her family. Despite her efforts to socialize him and bring him to puppy classes, he started to become reactive to everything -- dogs, people, and even the television. 

She’s dedicated the last year to working on counter conditioning, reading books and watching DVDs on the topic, taking him to group classes and private sessions with a professional trainer, but she’s only made marginal progress. 

Now the behavioral problem is starting to jeopardize her housing situation and makes it difficult to even walk her dog down the street. Debarking has been suggested to her, but it’s obviously not an easy decision. She’s hesitant, but her options are running out.

I think there are good reasons for the debarking ban, and I don’t think devocalization should ever be a matter of convenience to replace training, but I’m not sure if debarking should be entirely banned.

Where do you stand?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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