Cruelty By Any Name Hurts: The "Bark Softening" Lie
Who benefits from having dogs OR cats devocalized? Breeders who profit from but don't want to hear their animals. Labs that test on animals. And individuals who enjoy the companionship of pets but not responsible care and training. Vets who perform this convenience surgery benefit financially.
They all have a vested interest in sanitizing what other people correctly consider an act of cruelty.
So they play with words by drawing an artificial distinction between devocalization--the term widely applied to elective voice-altering surgery--and what they call "bark softening."
They claim "bark softening" is non-invasive, safe and should be allowed. That is dishonest, protecting their convenience and profit at the expense of innocent animals.
According to board-certified veterinary surgeon, Joel Woolfson, DVM, DACVS, there is NO benign way to alter the voice.
No matter how it's done, animals are exposed to serious surgical risks and a painful recovery. What's more, vocal cord surgery can (and often does) cause lifelong anguish, such as chronic coughing or impaired swallowing and breathing.
In some cases, it results in a terrible, premature death because these animals are at increased risk for choking; inhalation of food and liquids into the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia; and heatstroke even when it's not hot.
TWO SURGICAL APPROACHES, BOTH DANGEROUS
Cutting vocal cord tissue is the only way to alter the voice. There are two approaches: Instruments can be inserted through the animal's open mouth, trivialized as "bark softening," or through an incision in the neck. The latter is prohibitively expensive so it is not the method of choice.
But regardless of the surgical route, cutting any amount of vocal cord tissue can have disastrous consequences, says Dr. Woolfson.
He explains that even a small cut forms scars that can cause life-threatening conditions—including impaired breathing and swallowing—as well as lifelong misery from chronic coughing and gagging.
Ironically, an incision is made in the neck to remove airway blockages that may form even after the oral "bark softening" approach that's touted as "simple."
Damage to the larynx, blood loss and infection are other risks of voice-altering surgery, no matter how it's performed or the vet's skill.
THE ADDED RISK OF "BARK SOFTENING"
So-called "bark softening," in which vocal cords are notched or clipped through the open mouth, poses an added risk. Because it often fails to achieve the desired vocal outcome, the animal may be subjected to this surgery over and over until the client is satisfied. Some vets offer re-do's at a discount or even no charge, as shown on the medical record, left, of Porter's "bark softening" surgery. That's good for the client. But each time the vocal cords are cut, the helpless patient endures more pain and is re-exposed to surgical risks.
NO WAY TO PREVENT SCARRING
Another claim is that keeping the animal quiet for a few days or weeks after vocal cord surgery will prevent scars from developing in the throat.
This too is false, according to Dr. Woolfson, who has treated dogs with life-threatening scar tissue that formed after their voices were "softened" through the open mouth.
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."
WHAT ALTERED VOICES REALLY SOUND LIKE
No vet can predict the sound of the post-surgical voice: It may be hoarse. Or it could be shrill, wheezy or strange and disturbing. Some devocalized animals whistle when they try vocalize. Most people say these voices are far more irritating than the ones the animals were born with. Hear some in this short video.
Devocalization or bark softening: Regardless of what you call surgery performed to alter the voice, it's all risk, no benefit for animals.