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 actually allow and legitimize this act of animal cruelty. A fifth law, recently passed in California, also leaves dogs and cats vulnerable to mutilation.
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 tiny 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 relinquishment to a shelter or euthanasia--fates met by healthy animals after devocalization--that's reason enough under this unenforceable law. Though cats are subjected to devocalization too, they're not covered by the law at all.
Reality Check: It's as unethical to cut healthy vocal cord tissue as it is to kill a healthy animal for barking or meowing. No vet should concede to these demands; no pet owner need resort to them. But they do. That's why enforceable laws prohibiting devocalization are necessary.
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.
CALIFORNIA and RHODE ISLAND 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--breeders, animal-testing labs and uninformed or selfish pet owners--have these procedures performed.
In fact, the law was endorsed by the California Apartment Association, which exists to protect the business interests of rental property owners and managers. The association obviously would have opposed this legislation if a significant number of landlords were mandating devocalization and declawing.
The recourse for the few landlords who required devocalization or declawing is to disallow all pets--which could send even more animals to shelters or euthanasia.
So who does this smoke-and-mirrors law really benefit? LAWS LIKE THESE MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO PROTECT DOGS AND CATS. HERE'S WHY:
Laws that sanction devocalization or declawing by anyone for any reason other than to relieve a physical ailment causing the animal medical harm legitimze these acts of cruelty, making them acceptable options.
And empty laws give give legislators an easy out. They can appease animal-compassionate constituents who don't understand legislation--without angering the powerful veterinary and breeding lobbies, which have a financial stake in devocalization and declawing.
When it's time to support meaningful laws that would really protect animals by prohibiting behavior-masking surgery, these legislators will be less likely, saying, "I already voted for that."
Information on state laws provided by Animal Law Coalition