Not What They Seem: Some Devocalization "Bans" Actually Hurt Dogs and Cats
Not all devocalization laws are good for dogs and cats. Some are built on loopholes that protect human profit and convenience, not animals. Others, like "landlord laws," provide just an illusion of animal protection.
MASSACHUSETTS: THE ONLY SOLID DEVOCALIZATION LAW Only Massachusetts has a law, sponsored by Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets, that protects all dogs and cats statewide from devocalization.
Enacted in 2010, this landmark humane legislation prohibits vocal cord surgery on dogs and cats except to treat an ailment such as cancer causing the animal medical harm that cannot be remedied by other veterinary care.
There is no other ethical reason to cut an animal's vocal cords.
STATE LAWS THAT LEAVE ANIMALS VULNERABLE TO MUTILATION Three other states had previously enacted devocalization laws, but they allow and legitimize this act of animal cruelty. "Landlord laws" in Rhode Island and California are empty legislation, leaving dogs and cats vulnerable to devocalization and declawing.
►CALIFORNIA'S AND RHODE ISLAND'S "LANDLORD LAW" merely prevents landlords from requiring tenants to have pets devocalized or declawed.
However, landlords are NOT the reason the overwhelming majority of people have these surgeries performed on their animals. Breeders, animal-testing labs and irresponsible pet owners, regardless of where they live, do so for their own benefit. "Landlord laws" leave their animals without any protection.
In fact, the California law was endorsed by the California Apartment Association, which represents the interests of rental property owners and managers--not tenants or their pets! The association obviously would have opposed this legislation if landlords actually were mandating devocalization and declawing.
The recourse for the few landlords who did require devocalization or declawing prior to the law is to disallow all pets. So who does it really serve?
This legislation is not a stepping stone. It is a dead end.
PENNSYLVANIA allows devocalization of dogs if performed by a veterinarian and requires the use of anesthesia. The law does not apply to cats. But it doesn't afford dogs any protection either! It is primarily vets who perform devocalization, so the total number of procedures this law would disallow is small—and those happen underground, even where devocalization is legal.
Reality Check: Veterinarians board-certified in surgery, anesthesiology and internal medicine have testified that vocal cord surgery puts animals at high risk for lifelong suffering or a terrible death regardless of the vet's skill or experience; the instrument used; or the surgical route, through the oral cavity or an incision in the neck. Pain and life-threatening risks caused by this unnecessary surgery may continue long after the anesthesia has worn off.
►OHIO prohibits devocalization only of dogs deemed "dangerous." This protects humans from being attacked without vocal warning. But it leaves most dogs--and all cats--fair game for vocal cord mutilation. And the truth is, even small dogs can cause big harm when they bite a child or frail elder.
►NEW JERSEY puts the decision to devocalize dogs solely in the hands of veterinarians, who profit from this unnecessary surgery. For example, if the vet says his/her client threatened euthanasia or relinquishment to a shelter--fates met by animals even after devocalization--that would be reason to perform inhumane, behavior-masking surgery under this unenforceable law. Though cats are subjected to devocalization too, they're not covered by it at all.
Reality Check: It's as unethical to cut healthy vocal cord tissue--a dangerous surgery with serious, sometimes fatal complications--as it is to kill a healthy animal just for barking or meowing. No vet should do either. But some do. There's no gun to their heads. They risk only lost revenue. That's not reason to perform unnecessary surgery. And it's why enforceable laws prohibiting vocal cord surgery used as behavior intervention are essential.
LAWS LIKE THESE MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO PROTECT DOGS AND CATS. HERE'S WHY: Laws that allow voice-altering surgery by anyone for any reason other than to relieve a physical ailment causing the animal medical harm legitimize this act of cruelty. That can only cause more animal suffering.
And laws like the ones described above (except Massachusetts' law) also enable legislators to sidestep real animal-protective legislation--so they can avoid angering the veterinary and breeding lobbies, which have a financial stake in devocalization.
When it's time to pass laws that would actually protect animals by prohibiting voice-altering surgery without exception, these shrewd legislators will be less likely, claiming, "I already voted for that."
And dogs and cats will continue to be maimed with the blessing of the state.
Information on state laws provided by Animal Law Coalition