By SAM DOLNICK
Published: February 2, 2010
Nestlé barks when Mike Marder and his wife come home, and he barks when they leave. He barks at delivery boys, he barks at the doorbell, and he barks at the Marders’ new puppy, Truffle.
But for all that effort, the only sound Nestlé makes is a raspy squeak.
Dr. Marder, a veterinarian, tells those who are curious that Nestlé, a dachshund-terrier mix, is hoarse from too much barking.
But that is not true. The Marders had Nestlé’s vocal cords cut by a veterinary surgeon after a neighbor in the family’s apartment building on the Upper East Side threatened to complain to the co-op board about the noisy dog.
Although there is no reliable estimate as to how many dogs have had their vocal cords cut, veterinarians and other animal experts say that dogs with no bark can readily be found — but not necessarily heard — in private homes, on the show-dog circuit, and even on the turf of drug dealers, who are said to prefer their attack dogs silent.
The surgery usually leaves the animal with something between a wheeze and a squeak. The procedure, commonly referred to as debarking, has been around for decades, but has fallen out of favor, especially among younger veterinarians and animal-rights advocates.
Keeping pets in New York City, of course, has always required delicate negotiations between neighbors and species. The city’s 311 line fielded 6,622 complaints about barking dogs last year, while housing officials banned pit bulls, Rottweilers and other large dogs from public housing projects. Real estate experts say that co-op boards large and small always wrestle with pet policies, many of them tied to barking dogs.
Critics of the debarking procedure say it is outdated and inhumane, one that destroys an animal’s central means of communication merely for the owner’s convenience. Many veterinarians refuse to do the surgery on ethical grounds. Those who do rarely advertise it.
New Jersey bans devocalization surgery except for medical or therapeutic reasons, as do Britain and other European countries. Similar legislation is pending in Massachusetts, while Ohio restricts the surgery to nonviolent dogs.
Click here to learn more about bark softening in the full article
February 4, 2010, 11:46 am
Answers About Canine Devocalization
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Following are the responses from Sharon Vanderlip, a doctor of veterinary medicine, who answered readers’ questions about the procedure.
I would like to thank everyone who commented on Sam Dolnick’s article in The New York Times. Lively discourse is always interesting and informative, and “debarking” is understandably a controversial subject. When Mr. Dolnick interviewed me, we discussed the pros and cons of the procedure at length. I explained the types of procedures, discussed cases and provided detailed information. There wasn’t enough space for everything, so my input was naturally limited to a few sentences. I appreciate the opportunity to expand on the topic, explain the procedure and answer some of the readers’ questions. I hope you will find the information interesting and helpful.
The term “devocalization” is misleading, because the procedure does not render the animal voiceless, muted or silent. The correct term used in veterinary surgical texts is ventriculocordectomy. These days, not many veterinarians know how to perform the procedure because it is not commonly taught in veterinary schools. More emphasis is placed on behavioral modification, rather than medical procedures, to correct problem barking.
When ventriculocodectomy is correctly performed, there is about a 50 percent reduction in volume and a lower pitch to the bark. There are two types of ventriculocordectomy procedures: the laryngotomy technique and the oral technique. I have never performed the laryngotomy technique and in my professional opinion this technique should not be performed on any animal under any circumstances because it can cause serious side effects. The oral technique is the procedure most commonly requested and performed by veterinarians.
This technique involves making a two-inch incision on the skin of the neck, above the dog’s larynx, separating the muscles, cauterizing blood vessels, entering the larynx, removing all of the dog’s vocal fold tissue and stitching the incision back together. This technique is invasive, painful, requires gas anesthesia and has a prolonged recovery time. There can be serious postoperative complications, including seroma formation, delayed healing and tissue damage. Scarring can be so extensive that the dog can have difficulty breathing for the rest of its life.
This bark softening procedure is noninvasive and takes one to two minutes to perform, using a very short-acting injectable anesthetic. In this technique, the dog’s mouth is opened and a very small piece of tissue is taken from one or both vocal folds, using a slender biopsy instrument. When correctly done, there is little to no bleeding or discomfort. Pain killers (analgesia) should always be given, however, as a precaution. Recovery takes place within a few minutes and the dog is able to eat and drink immediately. There is no change in the dog’s behavior or attitude. The dog can and does continue to bark, but the bark is roughly half as loud as it was before the procedure. There is no way to predict or control the volume of the bark and the bark may have a raspy sound. Results vary among dogs and are usually permanent, although in some cases dogs may eventually regain full volume of their bark.
To Read the Q&A’s, click here