British Columbia

B.C. SPCA calls for ban on canine devocalization or debarking

After successfully fighting to end the practices of declawing in cats and ear cropping and tail docking in dogs, the B.C. SPCA is again calling on the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC) to ban yet another medically unnecessary pet procedure.

College of Veterinarians of British Columbia is reviewing the procedure

Canine devocalization can negatively affect dog welfare by suppressing their ability to express themselves and communicate with people and other dogs, according to veterinarian Rob Ashburner (Katherine Holland/CBC)

After successfully fighting to end the practices of declawing in cats and ear cropping and tail docking in dogs, the B.C. SPCA is again calling on the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia (CVBC) to ban yet another medically unnecessary pet procedure.

This time they hope to put an end to debarking, or canine devocalization, a procedure in which a dog's vocal cords are removed to muffle or eliminate barking. 

Veterinarian Rob Ashburner, who owns the West King Edward Animal Clinic, said barking allows dogs to express themselves and helps them communicate with people and other dogs. 

"Barking is a natural behaviour for dogs to express dog emotions ... being able to vocalize is a good thing for dogs," said Ashburner. 

The SPCA said in a statement that, in some cases, the dog's vocal cord tissues grow back, returning their ability to bark to near-normal levels. Devocalized dogs are still motivated to bark because the procedure does not address the underlying reasons for barking, according to the statement.

Ashburner said excessive barking is often caused by stress, separation anxiety, or lack of stimulation in their environment.

"Taking away the barking doesn't address the problem, it just addresses the symptoms."

He recommends owners consult a veterinarian, dog trainer, or dog behaviour specialist to train their dog. He said, in some cases, dogs can be prescribed medication to relieve their anxiety or stress. 

If training and behavioural intervention do not work, another option is to consider another home for the dog in an environment where they feel more comfortable or where the barking is not disturbing people nearby, said Ashburner. 

CVBC CEO Megan Bergman said in a written statement to CBC that the college is in the early stages of reviewing the issue and is not in a position to comment. 

"The CVBC recognizes the importance of considering amendments to standards and bylaws that may impact animal welfare ... we look forward to working collaboratively to review canine devocalization," Bergman wrote. 

The practice of devocalization has been banned in Alberta and Nova Scotia, and is expected to be banned soon in Quebec.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association published a statement in late February opposing non-therapeutic devocalization in dogs. They acknowledged therapeutic devocalization may take place for valid reasons, including airway obstruction, laryngeal paralysis or cancer. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC writer in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

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