Words matter! Loopholes effectively kill devocalization laws that legislators claim will protect dogs and cats from elective voice-altering surgery. And animals continue to suffer--and die--just for communicating.
Special interest groups that profit from devocalization ("bark softening," "voice reduction") of dogs and cats work to defeat humane laws prohibiting this act of animal cruelty. One way is to kill the legislation outright by persuading lawmakers to vote against it, send it to the black hole of "study" or hold it in a committee until it is dead.
A far more destructive way to kill good legislation is to riddle it with sneaky loopholes. That can be done when the bill is written, or amendments can be added any time before it becomes law.
Cleverly worded provisions may seem humane but would actually allow--even legitimize and encourage--the very act of animal cruelty the law was intended to prohibit.
Here are just a few to watch out for:
TEN LOOPHOLES THAT DESTROY GOOD DEVOCALIZATION BANS
1. Why Would EXCLUDING These Definitions Make the Law Unenforceable? Statutes must precisely define the actions they're supposed to make illegal or the law cannot be enforced. Without the following definitions, vets wishing to skirt a devocalization ban can play with words. For example, "I didn't devocalize the patient, I softened his bark/meow."
"VOCAL CORD SURGERY" shall mean a procedure involving the vocal apparatus of a dog or cat that includes cutting, notching, punching, abrading, laser, suturing or otherwise physically altering the tissue regardless of the surgical route.
“DEVOCALIZATION” shall mean vocal cord surgery on a dog or cat, as defined above, performed with the intent of altering, reducing or eliminating vocal sounds produced by that animal. This includes procedures ALSO REFERRED TO AS debarking, devoicing, silencing, vocal cordectomy, ventriculocordectomy, bark (or voice) reduction or bark (or voice) softening.
"MEDICALLY NECESSARY" shall mean necessary to treat a PHYSICAL illness, disease or injury or correct a birth defect causing the animal medical harm or pain that cannot be relieved or remedied by other veterinary care.
2. Why Would "Allowable for Medical Necessity" UNLESS Defined As Above Make the Law Unenforceable? An allowance that simply says "medically necessary" or "medically beneficial" is open to interpretation, enabling vets to perform non-therapeutic, voice-altering surgery without any restriction.
3. Why Would NOT Specifying "Physical” Create a Loophole? Not defining medically necessary as treatment of a physical ailment allows vets to cut vocal cords for any reason, including claimed "behavioral illness." That's what the law is supposed to prohibit!
Here's the truth: Barking and meowing are not pathology. They are communication that only becomes problematic when an owner ignores the animal’s needs (such as for exercise and companionship); keeps too many animals; inadvertently rewards and reinforces barking/meowing; or doesn’t train the animal correctly, consistently or at all.
Even anxiety can be managed humanely with behavior modification and/or medication under professional guidance. Cutting vocal cords doesn't relieve distress; the animal continues to suffer and in desperation may act out other ways, such as biting or house-soiling.
Treatment of a physical ailment is the ONLY ethical reason to cut a dog's or cat's vocal cords.
4. Why Would Substituting the Words "Pet" or "Companion Animal" for "Dogs and Cats" Leave Animals Unprotected? Animals used for breeding, show, sport or testing by research laboratories--devocalized so they'll be quiet in kennels or the show ring--are not considered pets. A law that says "pets" or "companion animals" instead of "dogs and cats" would leave these animals without any protection.
5. Why NOT Allow "Bark Softening" or "Bark Reduction" and Just Ban Devocalization? Because they're the same thing! Lobbyists claim "bark softening" is different and that it is a benign, "non-invasive" procedure. That is patently false.
The soft tissue of the vocal apparatus must be cut in order to alter the voice. Regardless of the surgical route, through the oral cavity (spun as "bark softening") or an incision in the neck, it indeed is invasive, painful--and dangerous.
6. Why Would "Allowable as a Last Resort/Final Alternative" Cause Even More Animals to Be Subjected to Voice-Altering Surgery? This proposal hurts animals in two ways.
►It keeps devocalization/bark softening legal because the law can't be enforced. NO vet can know, some won't ask, if voice-altering surgery is a last or first resort. Even receipts for training don’t mean the advice was followed. Training takes time and effort. Cutting vocal cords is easy for lazy people, profitable for vets. Only the animal suffers.
Further, NO vet can know if a client provides responsible care. Animals who don’t receive the companionship, exercise and mental stimulation they need express their distress vocally--and worse if their needs remain unmet.
►It would legitimize devocalization by codifying this act of cruelty as an acceptable practice. That can only result in more dogs and cats subjected to risky, painful vocal cord surgery just for communicating.
Why is the "Last Resort/Final Alternative" Loophole Baseless? Because NO vet is forced to cut healthy vocal cords OR kill a healthy animal for barking or meowing. And to say "if I don't do it, the client will just go elsewhere" suggests concern for profit not the wellbeing of vulnerable patients.
There are many effective, humane solutions for unwanted barking or meowing, starting with responsible selection, care and supervision of a companion animal. Training, facilitated by medication if necessary, is effective. And while some breeds are more vocal than others, it is the height of irresponsibility and cruelty to purchase, adopt or breed them knowing their predisposition, only to cut their vocal cords because of it.
For people who can't or don't wish to invest time and effort in their animals, shelter executives urge rehoming as the responsible and humane "final alternative."
Fact is, altering the voice does NOT guarantee a healthy animal won't be euthanized or surrendered to a shelter. It can even increase the risk. Here's why: Surgically masking an animal's voice makes it easier to ignore the needs expressed by persistent vocalization. That is both inhumane and leaves the animal with little choice but to act out in other ways, such as biting or house-soiling. These are the real reasons healthy animals are euthanized and relinquished to shelters. Animals are also euthanized when owners can't or won't pay for expensive surgery to treat complications of devocalization/bark softening.
7. Why Would Applying the Law Only to Breeders Make It Unenforceable...and Worse? Under this proposal, only people who breed animals would not be allowed to have them devocalized. But most breeders are not licensed. Hence, there is no certain way to identify those who wish to skirt the law by claiming they're “just” pet owners.
Worse, this proposal would legitimize and encourage devocalization/bark softening--an act of animal cruelty--by codifying it as an acceptable option for pet owners. That would cause even more dogs and cats to be devocalized. Here's why:
Having vocal cords cut is quick and easy for those who enjoy a dog's or cat's companionship but don't want to commit to responsible pet selection, care, training and supervision. And devocalization obviously is profitable for the vet.
Who suffers? Only the animal and future owners, who may be forced to choose between a $2,000 procedure to remove scar tissue from their beloved pet's airway and euthanasia.
8. Why Would Applying the Law Only to Puppy Mills Harm Animals? Puppy mills are just a small segment of those who have animals devocalized/bark softened. This convenience surgery is also performed at the request of AKC and backyard breeders, show dog exhibitors, sled dog racers, research labs that test on animals and irresponsible pet owners. A law this narrow would leave nearly all dogs and cats vulnerable to behavior-masking vocal cord surgery.
9. Why Would Exempting Veterinarians From Penalties Kill the Legislation? Because it is primarily vets who perform devocalization, this loophole would kill the law. (Those who perform surgery on animals without a veterinary license are subject to other laws.) Further, there is no basis for the exemption:
Veterinarians board-certified in surgery, anesthesiology and internal medicine say altering vocal cord tissue--the only way to change an animal's voice--is dangerous, potentially fatal, no matter who performs it, even a skilled and experienced vet.
With no benefit for the animal, elective vocal cord surgery isn't just dangerous; it is cruel. And no one should be allowed to engage in an act of animal cruelty, least of all veterinarians, who are entrusted to protect animals from harm.
10. Why Would Applying the Law Only to Landlords Hurt Animals? This is "smoke-and-mirrors" legislation that simply prohibits landlords from requiring devocalization/bark softening. Though it sounds good at first blush, landlords are an insignificant cause of devocalization.
Breeders, animal-testing labs and impatient or lazy pet owners, whether in apartments or single-family houses, are the real reason animals are subjected to voice-altering surgery. But this law doesn't protect those dogs and cats.
And faced with such a law, the recourse for the few landlords who formerly required behavior-masking surgery is simple: disallow all pets.
So who benefits from this pointless legislation? Not animals. Just the special-interest groups that profit from devocalization/bark softening and the law's sponsors, who can claim to be animal-friendly without angering those lobbies!