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An Oregon court handed down a controversial ruling against a rural southern Oregon farmer. After years of complaints about their barking dogs, a family must now surgically ‘debark’ the animals.
In a landmark ruling, one that many are calling cruel and unnecessary, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Oregon farm owners, Karen Szewc and John Updegraff, must surgically ‘debark’ their dogs.
The devocalization procedure, in which tissue from the animal’s vocal cords is surgically removed, either through the mouth or via an incision in the larynx, is banned in 6 states unless medically necessary with the exception of Massachusetts who has banned the procedure entirely and under any circumstance. Outside of those states, many veterinary practices refuse to perform the painful surgery.
Results of the procedure differ among dogs, but most commonly leave the dog with an airy, hoarse, or squeaky whine in place of their usual vocal range.
The Oregon ruling came after a decade-long dispute among the farm owners and their neighbors Debra and Dale Krein filed a lawsuit claiming the claiming the “dogs barked uncontrollably for long periods of time while the defendants were away from the residence.”
The court awarded the Kreins a settlement of $238,000 in 2015, but the plaintiff’s argued that the judgement did nothing to prevent the dogs continued barking and disruption of their quality of life.
Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Timothy Gerking agreed with the Kreins and ordered that the dogs undergo devocalization surgery.
“We are just shocked,” Oregon Humane Society spokeman David Lytle told The Oregonian. “We think it’s not humane to the dogs to put them through the surgery and the pain,” said Jeffrey Klausner, chief medical officer of the Banfield Pet Hospital.
Karen Szewc said the six dogs on the farm, all Tibetan and Pyrenean Mastiffs, are vital to her business because their barking scares off predators that can kill the livestock. After debarking one of her dogs in 2002, a cougar entered the farm and killed over $3,000 worth of livestock, undeterred when no barking scared the predator away.
“We do not have the dogs to harass the neighbors. We have the dogs to protect our sheep,” the farm owner said.
Szewc argued that barking dog ordinances didn’t apply in this case because the 3.4-acre parcel of land is an operating farm, which includes sheep, goats and chickens. Farms fall under different ordinances.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals consisting of Joel DeVore, Chris Garrett and Bronson James upheld the ‘debark’ ruling, agreeing that the dog owners were not running a farm.