The Debarking Debate

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Photo: Jill Greenberg

In Sweden, the spaying or neutering of dogs is considered akin to mutilation. Tail docking is also frowned upon, as it is in many other places in Europe. But here in New York, of course, dog owners pick and choose features of their dogs the same way they like to order off the menu in restaurants. A front-page piece in today's Times tackles "de-barking," an elective surgical procedure wherein the dog’s voice box is modified, leaving a raspy, wheezy sound in place of a full-throated bark. Featured is a dachshund-terrier mix called Nestlé, whose "vocal cords were 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." Ouch.

The Times talks to a few veterinarians who say they won't do the procedure anymore, because it's not medically necessary. Plus, it sounds horribly cruel. Subjecting a dog to major surgery just because you're afraid of the wrath of the co-op board? And how would you like it if you couldn't speak? It's easy to see why Nestlé's owners tell people he's hoarse, and another dog owner who spoke to the paper refused to give his last name so as to not be the "targeted by activists."

But many of the hundreds of comments that have since amassed on the story are sympathetic. One dog owner said she spent thousands of dollars and over a year trying to get her dog, a persistent irritant to her neighbors, to stop barking before giving in to her vet's suggestion to have the procedure. "I cried before and after the surgery," she said. But afterward:

[H]e was insanely, gloriously happy that he could go outside and bark his fool head off and no one cared. It wasn't simply that there was no change in personality or temperament — he actually went back to being the hilarious, outgoing dog he'd been before the neighbors started complaining.


Of course, the surgery isn't guaranteed to solve the problem with your neighbors. You know how people in co-ops are; they can always find something to bitch about.

Heel. Sit. Whisper. Good Dog. [NYT]
Related: The Rise of Dog Identity Politics [NYM]