Failed Anti-Devocalization Legislative Attempts


In 2010, both houses of the California legislature passed a bill prohibiting landlords from refusing leases to potential tenants unless they devocalized their dogs and declawed their cats.  Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, claiming that the bill’s supporting evidence was not supported by science, whatever that meant.

New York

On June 13, 2012, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski’s bill (A 3431-B), co-sponsored by 60 of his colleagues, to prohibit devocalization under most circumstances was approved by the New York State Assembly by a vote of 75-2 over fierce opposition from the New York State Veterinary Medical Association.
Tracking the Massachusetts law, sometimes verbatim, Zebrowski’s bill provided that:

  • The law applies to dogs and cats.
  • Only a licensed veterinarian may perform the procedure.
  • The procedure must be medically necessary.
  • Recordkeeping and reporting requirements must be complied with.
  • “Devocalization” is defined as “a surgical procedure on the larynx or vocal chords of an animal intended to cause the reduction or elimination of vocal sounds produced by that animal and includes procedures commonly referred to as ‘debarking,’ ‘silencing’ or ‘bark softening’.”1
  • Violation of the statute is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days imprisonment or a fine up to $500, or both.2
  • A veterinarian who knowingly violates the statute can have her license suspended or revoked.
  • An animal who has been devocalized in violation of the statute can be forfeited to an SPCA or Humane organization, and the “owner’s” right to the animal terminated.3

However, despite the moral and humane need for Zebrowski’s bill and its many co-sponsors and non-legislative supporters, the chairlady of the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee, Pattie Ritchie, refused to release the bill. In either a tactical move to placate the New York State Veterinary Medical Association, or for some other equally unacceptable reason, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos refused to schedule Assemblyman Zebrowski’s bill for a Senate vote without Ritchie’s committee’s approval.

The Senate version of the bill, S 6167-A, sponsored by Senator Lee Zeldin, had not been amended, but both Zebrowski and Zeldin were under intense pressure from NYSVMS lobbyists to weaken the bill. They made a few concessions, but in the end both bills contained the provisions listed above.

The end came at the close of business on June 21, 2010, when the 2011-2012 session of the New York Legislature concluded without a vote on the Zebrowski-Zeldin bills. In a victory for the cutters, debarking is still legal in the State of New York, for any—or no—reason.


Cranston, Rhode Island

There is erroneous information on the Internet to the effect that the City of Cranston, Rhode Island, enacted an anti-devocalization ordinance.  The fact is that the proposed ban drifted back and forth before the City Council from about January 2011 to June 2011, when it was removed from the agenda.



On May 27, 2010, Congressman Ruperberger introduced H.R. 5422 “To authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to make grants for the prevention of cruelty to animals to States that have enacted laws prohibiting the devocalization of dogs and cats for purposes of convenience.”

The bill was well conceived and drafted, and would have provided an inducement to states to enact laws like ISAR’s Model Statute.

The bill, however, died in the Agriculture Committee of the House of Representatives.



1 There is no such definition in the Massachusetts statute.

2  New York’s punishment is mild compared with the Massachusetts penalties: state prison for up to 5 years, or up to 2 ½ years in the House of Correction, or a fine up to $2,500, or both the 21/2 years and fine. Also, Massachusetts provides, as New York does not, that “[a]court may also order any person convicted under this section to submit to a mental health evaluation as determined by the court and undergo any recommended counseling or treatment. In addition to any other penalty provided by law, a person convicted under this section may be barred from owning or possessing any animals, or living on the same property with someone who owns or possesses animals, for a period of time deemed appropriate by the court, and required to take humane education, pet ownership and dog training classes as ordered by the court.”

3  Massachusetts provides, as New York does not, that “[a]ny person or business selling a dog or cat for profit shall disclose whether the dog or cat has been surgically debarked or silenced and provide the purchaser with a copy of the veterinarian certification required by [the statute]. Massachusetts has one other provision that New York does not: “No person shall surgically debark or silence a dog or cat, or cause the surgical debarking or silencing of a dog or cat, unless a veterinarian licensed in this state has filed 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.”