Massachusetts bill would ban devocalization surgery in canines

Massachusetts bill would ban devocalization surgery in canines

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Jul 17, 2009
By dvm360.com staff
Boston, Mass. -- A proposed bill that threatens to ban canine devocalization in Massachusetts has veterinarians barking mad.

The bill, prompted by a teenage boy who found a dog that had been debarked, would make it a felony to perform the procedure unless a state-licensed veterinarian files a written certification with the town clerk or (in Boston) the police commissioner, stating that the surgical debarking or silencing "is medically necessary to treat or relieve an illness, disease or injury, or correct a congenital abnormality that is causing or will cause the dog or cat medical harm or pain."

The American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) stance is that "canine devocalization should be performed only by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed." The policy was approved in 2002 and reaffirmed in 2008.

While the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) is not in favor of devocalization either, it cannot get behind the proposal.

The MVMA "deplores devocalizing an animal to facilitate the animal's sale or for reasons of convenience, and encourages responsible pet ownership from the start, including selecting a breed and particular dog appropriate for the owner's living situation and foreseeable family circumstances," the association wrote in a statement to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

But when behavior training fails and all other avenues have been exhausted, "we believe that surgical cordectomy needs to be available as a last resort," the group says.

But those aren't the only reasons the MVMA opposes the bill. It objects for these reasons as well: The bill requires that otherwise confidential information, such as the animal's identification and medical diagnosis and identification and location of the animal's owner, be made public. It provides too narrow an exception for performing devocalization, in that "medically necessary" is not the only legitimate reason for the procedure. And the bill "infringes upon a veterinarian's exercise of her or his professional judgment." If the bill passes, anyone in violation faces a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to five years in prison. Several states, including New Jersey and Ohio, have laws pertaining to devocalization surgery.