There has been virtually no litigation about debarking, and none about laws prohibiting it.
A Westlaw computer state and federal search of the term “devocalization” did not find the word’s use even once in any reported case in the United States. A similar search of the word “debark” turned up 11 cases in which it appeared. Only three were in any way relevant, but they provide a window into some of the facts surrounding the practice of debarking.
One—the Minnesota case of In re Block1—while not deciding anything substantive about debarking, presents a microcosm of how widespread the brutal practice is, and for how long it has existed. The case arose in the context of a dog breeder’s application for a permit to operate a 600-dog “kennel,” breeding cocker spaniels. In sugar-coating the nature of the debarking operation, the breeder’s veterinarian testified that he, himself, working for the breeder for some 24 years, had debarked about ten thousand dogs. One breeder. One small “kennel,” 24 years. Ten thousand dogs. Do the math. Multiply decades by many states, by multiple “kennels,” by countless breeders. The word “horrific” is too mild!
In another case, neighbors complained about barking dogs. The “owner” was charged with violation of a local ordinance and convicted. The judge agreed to suspend her punishment if she punished certain of the dogs by having them debarked.2
The third case was similar. The “owner” of 14 dogs in a rural area agreed to satisfy her neighbors’ complaints about noise by debarking some of them, again punishing the animals for her behavior.3
It is self-evident what the Block case tells us about debarking.
What the other two cases tell us is that “owner” conduct punishes innocent animals by having veterinarians sever their vocal chords.
ISAR anticipates that as more jurisdictions follow Massachusetts’ (and hopefully New York’s) lead by banning debarking, there will be more litigation through which not only will such laws be upheld but also provide additional protection for companion animals.
1 727 N.W. 2d 166 (Minnesota Court of Appeals, 2007).
2 State v. Lobue, 273 So.2d 508 (Louisiana Supreme Court, 1973).
3 Graff v. Zoning Board, 894 A.2d 295 (Connecticut Supreme Court, 2006).