Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals

Missed Opportunities: Virginia’s Defeated Devocalization Bill

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This last legislative session, Virginia proposed HB 2195, which would have prohibited devocalization of a dog or cat unless medically necessary. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of the House Committee for Courts of Justice.

As I said in a post outlining how the Virginia General Assembly did in 2011, this was a missed opportunity.  Virginia could have joined the ranks of a small handful of states prohibiting devocalization. In 2010, Massachusetts passed Logan’s Law, becoming the first state to ban devocalization. Logan was a show dog devocalized by his breeder, then discarded when he stopped winning shows. Logan’s adopter, together with organizations like the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) and the Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets, successfully convinced the Massachusetts legislators to prohibit the procedure.

Devocalization is a very invasive and risky procedure which severs the dog’s vocal cords.  Devocalization has the potential for lasting and serious physical, psychological and behavioral side effects. Often, scar tissue from the surgery will inhibit exercise and breathing, and can interfere with emergency intubation procedures. Excessive barking can be treated any number of ways, including training your dog or cat, ensuring he or she gets proper exercise and making positive changes in his or her environment. Even if used presumably as a last resort to combat excessive barking, it is an unnatural and inhumane procedure. Law enforcement also oppose debarking for safety reasons, because officers would no longer have a verbal warning of the presence of a dog. For more information on the procedure, take a look at HSMVA’s excellent fact sheet.

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that as of October 2010, only four states prohibit devocalization in some fashion. Massachusetts and New Jersey ban devocalization unless a licensed veterinarian deems the procedure to be medically necessary (for instance, to treat the presence of cancer). Pennsylvania prohibits devocalization unless performed by a licensed veterinarian using anesthesia. Ohio prohibits devocalization of any dog deemed dangerous.

Virginia did not miss out only on the chance to ban a cruel practice.  Virginia may have also missed the opportunity to obtain federal funding. Last month, Representative Ruppersberger from Maryland introduced HR 1725, which would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to make grants of up to $1,000,000 per state for the prevention of cruelty to animals to states that have enacted laws prohibiting devocalization of dogs and cats for convenience. HR 1725 is currently in the House Committee on Agriculture.

Let’s hope that Congress puts its money where its mouth is on animal welfare by passing HR 1725, and that states, including Virginia, respond by banning devocalization.

Author: Heidi Meinzer

Attorney and Animal Lover, not necessarily in that order

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