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A Massachusetts law banning devocalization of animals went into effect last week.

Dogs and cats get First Amendment rights

Dogs and cats have been given the right to free speech — in Massachusetts anyway. 

A law that went into effect on July 21 bans surgical devocalization — the cutting of animals’ vocal cords — except in cases of medical necessity. The procedure is commonly referred to as “debarking” when it’s done to dogs.

The measure was signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. A violation carries up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

This is a huge victory for animal welfare activists, but more so for the animals themselves. Devocalization is a cruel, unnecessary procedure that can have devastating effects, including the build-up of scar tissue in the throat that can make it difficult to breathe. Moreover, in my mind, taking away an animal’s voice is like taking away at least a part of its ability to communicate.

Let’s hope this turns into a trend and other jurisdictions, including Minnesota, decide to follow Massachusetts’ lead.


  1. Dogs have been given rights to bark? I don’t think so. Dogs have always barked. And neighbors have often complained causing all kinds of disputes. Dogs get no rights here. Dogs get nothing from this bill. What this bill does is take away the last resort option to keep a noisy dog in its home when that dog cannot be trained not bark and annoy people. The article above repeats misleading information put forth by animal rights activists. Properly done, the procedure is a simple biopsy punch. We don’;t call biopsies cruel do we? Those who actually want to know about the procedure, which has been done successfully for over 30 years, should try reading about it from a veterinarian who not only understands it but performs the procedure. Check it out here.'s_view_of_bark_softening.html

  2. I suggest that the proponents of this bill are determined to regulate every aspect of America–whether breeding purebred animals, research animals, circuses, zoos, rodeos, farming, hunting, fishing, restaurants, etc. When are you people going to wake up and smell the roses? When it becomes more important to regulate the decisions of individuals with their vets, we have a problem. Next (of course this is on the way) the Government will regulate what a doctor can do for his patient. This is America. Bark softening is just that! I have had it done numerous times since certain breeds are just “barkers” and enjoy doing it; they are not mistreated, left alone or bored. They “talk” to one another and everyone else in the name of social chit-chat. Barking is part of their genetics used to perform their various vocations. If barking can be reduced easily for urban living (and don’t even begin to believe the pictures of the debarks HSUS uses), the neighbors are happy, the owner is happy and the DOG IS HAPPY–what is your problem? HSUS/PETA are merely money grubbing organizations who sponsor these absurd laws to eliminate all pets ultimately (do your research on Pacelle & Newkirk & their beliefs & comments). They also donate their income with the exception of about 1/2 of 1% toward political goals–not helping animals as they so enjoy saying and posing for photo ops. Their desires are a pet-free, vegan society. I don’t find this lifestyle agreeable. Let’s let the people steeped in animal husbandry, farming and vet medicine formulate the laws–not the animal rights groups!

  3. You are so wrong! This is NOT a victory for animal welfare advocates…it is a victory for animalr rights advocates whose intent is the elimination of the companion animal. This law has been touted as a grassroots movement yet the actual bill was drafted by animal rights activist and NY attorney, Laura Allen. Grassroots? Not hardly!

    The author is like the majority of people, uneducated about this procedure. It it is a quick, safe surgery that carries less risk than spay/neuter and less problems with side effects than the routine vaccinations we give our dogs. EVERY surgery results in scar tissue. These are easily verifiable facts and not the FICTION (aka lies) told by those who pushed this bill through.

    There is a reason why the Massachusetts Veterinary Assoc, the American Veterinary Medical Assoc, the American Veterinary Hospital Assoc and the ASPCA (the most prominent animal welfare organization in the US) opposed the passage of this law.

    The primary tools dogs use to communicate are body language, smell and a series of yips and growls thatbark softened dogs can still make. Animal rightists who pushed this bill through legislature intentionally mislead lawmakers and the public by claiming this surgery makes it impossible for a dog to bark and that is a blatant lie.

    I can envision a constitutional challenge against this law in the future.

  4. Once again, the AR’s have mislead the public (and this author) into thinking a debark is a cruel procedure. Quite the contrary. It is quick (2 minutes?) under a very light anesthesia. The dog wakes up within minutes, can go home within 1/2 hr. or so. Goes home, eats dinner, and when done by a qualified vet has very few side effects. A far cry from a spay or neuter, both of which are major surgeries with MUCH higher risks and side effects. With a spay/neuter, the dog is under heavy sedation, the dog takes a long time to wake up, is usually under the effects for a good 24 hrs. Typically cannot eat for at least 24 hours, takes out perfectly healthy organs because the majority of pet owners are too lazy to keep an intact dog secure with in season and/or let intact males wander. My girl was spayed a few weeks ago – and was on antibiotics for two weeks as a result. She was in pain and miserable for several days. However, when she was debarked a few years ago – she came home within an hour of the procedure and was happy, eating and playing. If you call debarking cruel – then spay/neuters are cruel, brutal, inhumane, horrible, etc., etc.,

    Debarks can save lives. Check with animal rescues to see how many dogs are turned in because of barking. Some breeds are bred TO bark. It is very difficult, and in some cases, impossible to train a dog that’s been bred to bark to stop. And then, it’s only IF the person is there to make the command to stop. You get multiple dogs (2+) that are bred to bark and it is impossible. I consulted a nationally known animal trainer to ask about whether they could be trained not to bark and this person said “no way”.

    All too often, a debark is the last resort to saving a dog’s life. To ban a debark is simply a death sentence for many dogs. And you call that a victory???? Shame on you.

  5. People who oppose this obviously have no idea of the stress it puts an animal under. I am a vet tech and have seen many dogs who have has this procedure done. “Debarking” can drive dogs insane. Imagine waking up one day and you can no longer talk, but you keep trying. Dogs who have this procedure are NOT mute; they still make sound. I’ve seen dogs with this who go crazy from confusion and others who continue to bark until their throats bleed. 99.9% of the people who get this procedure done on their animal are just too lazy or incompetent to know how to train their animals to stay quiet. Many vets already ban this procedure and other considered inhumane for the right reasons (e.g. declawing a cat).

    It is not the procedure that’s the problem, but it’s the effects that can make a dog go insane. This is why it is so important to do your research and know about the breed of dog you welcome into your home. You should NOT adopt a dog if you don’t want them to bark. I’m not for the elimination of all companion animals, but I am for their welfare once you have them in your home. This is a case of pure selfishness and a lack of respect for animals by having this done. I thank the heavens that at least the policymakers knew what they were talking about!

  6. It should also be, if not illegal, at least unpopular to dock the tails of two- or three-day-old pups merely in order to conform to some artificial “breed standard.” BTW the correct solution for pet dogs that bark too much is better owners, such as those who choose a breed based on its suitability for the living arrangements they can provide rather than choosing a breed for its fashionableness or prestige and then altering the dog to fit. Would you cut out your child’s tongue if it talked too much?

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