Special interest groups have advanced misleading claims about devocalization for their own profit or convenience. Here are some--and the facts.
CLAIM: If performed correctly, devocalization is a benign procedure. FACT: Veterinarians board-certified in surgery, anesthesiology and internal medicine say there is no benign way to devocalize:
Vocal cord surgery is always dangerous regardless of the vet’s skill and experience; the instrument used; and the surgical route, through the mouth or an incision in the neck.
Animals face serious, potentially fatal surgical and long-term risks. Even a small amount of scarring, a normal outcome of any surgery, can cause lifelong misery or a terrible death when it forms in the throat.
Because the larynx can lose its ability to close properly as a result of devocalization, there is high risk for inhaling food, liquid or vomit into the lungs. That in turn can lead to pneumonia.
CLAIM: "Bark softening" isn't devocalization. It's a different, non-invasive procedure. FACT: "Bark
softening" is devocalization. The only way to alter
the voice is by cutting the tissue of the vocal apparatus. Whether that’s done
through the oral cavity--spun as "bark softening"--or an incision in the neck, it indeed is invasive,
painful and dangerous.
The term "bark softening" is also misleading in another way. No vet can predict the quality of the post-surgical
voice: It may be hoarse. Or it could be shrill, wheezy or strange and disturbing. Most people say devocalized voices are far more irritating than those animals are born with. But once vocal cord tissue is cut, there's no turning back.
CLAIM: Just keep the animal quiet for a few days after devocalization surgery to prevent internal scarring. FACT: False, according to board-certified veterinary surgeon Joel Woolfson, DVM, DACVS. He explains, "Scar tissue formation (fibroplasia) is part of the healing process every time you cut into tissue. That the scar tissue would become excessive if the animal were more active is a theory concocted without any science or evidence."
CLAIM: Spay/neuter is more invasive than devocalization. FACT: Not necessarily. One way devocalization is performed is through an incision in the neck; so is the life-saving surgery needed when scar tissue forms over the airway after devocalization. That's pretty invasive!
But even inserting instruments through the oral cavity to cut vocal cord tissue subjects animals to great risks--including a terrible death--without any benefit.
In contrast, spay/neuter benefits society as well as animals by reducing:
The animal's risk of certain cancers.
The pet overpopulation that burdens taxpayer-funded municipal resources and nonprofit animal shelters, and leads to scores of animals being euthanized just for want of a home.
Persistent barking or meowing triggered by hormonally driven excitement or aggression.
Spay/neuter reduces shelter populations.
Devocalization doesn't. These animals are given up and convenience-euthanized like any other dog or cat. They just suffer more.
CLAIM: If people can’t have their animals devocalized, many more will be euthanized or surrendered. FACT: The high cost of caring for pets is among the top ten reasons for surrender to shelters. Barking and meowing are not. (Source: National Humane Education Society)
Not only are devocalized animals convenience-euthanized and given to shelters like any other dog or cat, devocalization can increase the risk. Here's why:
Devocalization doesn't manage and may even lead to or worsen house-soiling or biting. And it doesn't improve an owner's financial, health or marital problems. These are the real reasons healthy pets are give up or killed.
Some animals are euthanized because complications of devocalization such as airway blockage are so costly to treat.
Devocalization also doesn't prevent the surrender of breeding and show animals who are not profitable. Those who aren't euthanized or bought--with or without disclosure of devocalization--often land in financially strapped, nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups.
CLAIM: If devocalization is outlawed, it will be performed by those not licensed to provide veterinary care. FACT: Where devocalization is legal, that’s already happening, just as ear cropping and tail docking are sometimes performed by persons other than veterinarians. But even in the hands of qualified, licensed vets and veterinary surgeons, animals are suffering and dying as a result of devocalization. Cutting vocal cord tissue is always dangerous regardless of who does it or how.
CLAIM: "Good neighbors" have barky dogs devocalized. FACT: Good neighbors provide the responsible care, training and supervision of their animals that is necessary to manage all behavior, not just vocalization.
Keeping a "talkative" breed, or too many animals of any breed, where noise will not be tolerated is not responsible.
Tethering dogs outside or keeping them in an apartment alone for sustained periods to bark their boredom and frustration is not responsible.
Failing to spay/neuter--which quells hormonally triggered vocalization--or provide the training, exercise and companionship all animals need is not responsible.
Cutting the animal's vocal cords to compensate for the owner's failure is both irresponsible and cruel.
Devocalization also puts all who come in contact with the animal at risk.
Different barks and meows mean different things, from "play with me" to "get away or I'll bite." Devocalization removes or diminishes those distinctions. And few people can interpret animal body language, especially when the animal is not their own.
How many people realize a wagging tail can mean agitation, not friendliness? Without the animal's audible, unambiguous vocal cues, greeting a neighbor's dog or petting one in the park could be a recipe for disaster. Even a small dog's bite can do big harm to a child or frail elder.
CLAIM: Devocalization is the only solution for animals bred to bark and meow persistently. FACT: All behavior, including genetically based, is influenced by environment and training, according to animal behavior experts like master dog trainer Anthony Jerone, founder of the New York City Transit Authority K-9 Unit. Veterinary behaviorists say medication can facilitate training.
But if persistent vocalization is a concern, why purchase, adopt or breed animals in whom this trait is cultivated, like Sheltie dogs and Siamese cats, only to have their vocal cords cut?
An Australian Shepherd, Phoebe was bred to bark frequently. Yet she was devocalized for that very reason.
CLAIM: Cutting vocal cords is the only way to deal with a cat who meows loudly as a result of dementia. FACT: Many cats with dementia feel insecure and may express that by calling out for the people they trust; cutting vocal cords is a cruel response that only compounds the animal's distress. There are many humane options, from medication to games that stimulate the brain and slow the progression of the illness. Sometimes just talking to the cat, reassuring him you're nearby, is enough to quell his cries for help. CLAIM: Cutting vocal cords is
kinder than a bark collar. FACT: Positive training techniques are more effective and
kinder than bark collars or devocalization. However, collars that release a citronella scent are not
harmful. And all collars may be removed. Once vocal cord tissue is cut—with its
attendant surgical risks—there is no turning back. The animal is forever exposed to serious complications
that may cause lifelong anguish or a terrible, premature death.
CLAIM: Cutting vocal cords is kinder than yelling at or abusing the animal. FACT: Cutting a dog's or cat's vocal cords to mask barking or meowing is abuse. And those who abuse animals for vocalizing are likely to do so for house-soiling, jumping on the furniture or just because. Prosecute the abuser, don't punish the victim with unnecessary, risky vocal cord surgery.
CLAIM: Devocalization is rare. FACT: Devocalization is far more common than most people realize.
What's rare is disclosure by those who have animals devocalized and those who perform it.They know devocalization is widely considered cruel, and it's a cruelty that's easy to hide.
Unlike cropped ears, docked tails and declawed paws, vocal cords are not visible. And when they're cut through the oral cavity, the only scars--the ones that can kill the animal--are internal, hidden from view.
People encountering devocalized animals assume they have laryngitis. It's hard to fathom that someone actually had their vocal cords cut just to deal with barking or meowing.