Friday, February 5, 2010

Debarking debated

I hadn’t thought much about debarking lately, but along came this article from The New York Times on the subject, putting it uppermost in mind again.

Saint Bosco (who didn’t earn the title “saint” until after he died, like all good saints), our beloved sheltie, was an unrepentant barker of the highest degree. That dog could, and often would, bark at anything. I mean anything --- including leaves falling from trees and the rain. In his world, there was nothing worse than a thought unexpressed, so express he did, with great frequency and occasional high volume.

It wouldn’t be quite right to say his barking bothered me, although there were moments when I thought if I heard his voice one.more.time. I was going to pull his little tongue right out of his head (not all that unlike fantasies I’d been known to have about the spouse and kids at one time or another). What bothered me was the idea that he might be truly and deeply annoying our neighbors. The majority of the neighbors we had at the time were decent people and I didn’t want them to hate my dog and, by extension, us. So I was pretty hypersensitive about it.

Most of the time I believed that, all things being equal, he wasn’t that bad a dog to have as a neighbor. He slept indoors every night, so there wasn’t any of that keeping-the-neighbors-up-all-night stuff; he did far more barking inside the house as he guarded his front yard from…well…everything; and a couple of the neighborhood girls had squeals that could shatter crystal --- squeals which they seemed to practice with great regularity in the afternoons and evenings while playing outside in the front yard.

I would have never, ever considered debarking Bosco. All the cute little noises he made in addition to his barks were most dear to me, as well as his ability to “sing” on command. And, to be honest, part of me felt that Bosco’s vocalizations were just part of the whole “that’s what you get when you live in the suburbs” spiel. The neighbors got to hear him bark and we got to hear the kids squeal or the lawnmowers or leafblowers buzz. Even steven.

Bosco passed on in 2005. Being the critter person I am, it wasn’t all that much longer before I acquired another dog --- Darby, SPCA mutt. For all of the wondrous, fabulous things about Bosco, the one thing I knew I wouldn’t miss was cringing anytime I thought he’d been making noise past the point of neighborhood civility.

Darby made nary a peep for his first few weeks with us. We breathed a sigh of relief. Though we had moved to a new city since Bosco’s finest barking days, it was wonderful to envision a future where the neighbors would have a little peace on our side of the fence.

Then Darby found his voice. Not just any voice, but what can only be described as a cross between a fire alarm and an old-fashioned car horn, in that whole aruuuuuuu-gah fashion. This little white dog had more sound coming out of his body than I’d ever known a dog that size capable of producing. I was horrified. Frankly, some days I still am. But still not enough to consider debarking him.

Now the conflict is more abstract. Is debarking a dog worse than keeping a shock collar on them? One renders some pain for a bit, then it’s over, while the other inflicts pain time after time, teaching a dog to stifle every instinct they have towards warning people, not only about intruders, but about when they’re feeling overly stressed or being pushed too far by someone or something. Is debarking worse than being forced to give up a dog because of complaints from neighbors? The surgery itself has been refined over the years where many vets no longer do any external cutting at all, accomplishing the task in twenty minutes or so.

There are things people do to their pets every day that make me sad. Or angry. I’m just not sure this is one of them.


Unknown said...

I have retrievers, so I am accustomed to quiet dogs. They are bred to be quiet since a barking dog scares away game. The first time I heard a bark-softened dog I was shocked. Then the owner explained to me that she had to bark-soften her dog or euthanize it.

De-barking might not be the choice I'd make for my dog, but I am unwilling to take that option away from another owner. Is it better to kill a dog rather than bark-soften it? I think not.

More people need to mind their own business. Those who want to define bark softening as cruelty should be forced to deal with a screaming dog and complaints by neighbors before they are allowed to define it as cruelty.

Vicky said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate you perspective.


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