Pet Modification

Pet owners are taking care of animals that were previously put under the knife.

One-hundred-twenty-seven pounds of pure love and affection is how Vernon resident Sue Perry describes Porter, her 6-year-old Newfoundland. But after adopting him three years ago, Perry was shocked to hear Porter bark.

What should have sounded like the deep bark typical to Porter’s breed came out as more of a wheezy gasp because Porter’s breeder had his vocal cords cut when he was 4 months old, Perry said. 

The process is called devocalization, and Perry said Porter’s owner did it out of convenience.

The same procedure was done to Cody, an 11-year-old Collie. 

Cody’s bark is barely a whisper.  His owner, Susan Rawson, said Cody was a show dog before her family adopted him.  He was debarked so he would stay quiet in the dog show ring, the Vernon resident said. 

But both Perry and Rawson said devocalization has led to serious health problems for Cody and Porter. 

Scar tissue has grown where the dogs’ vocal cords were cut, leading them to have trouble breathing Perry and Rawson said. Gagging is also a problem, the women said.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. It’s like declawing cats, or taking the voice box out of a baby.  That’s how they communicate, that’s how they talk.  So I think it’s very cruel,” said Rawson.

Pet modification can include some very invasive procedures, like debarking, and then others that are more cosmetic, like ear cropping or tail docking.  These procedures are causing a debate within the veterinary community.

Lilly is a Great Dane, and a show dog.  Her ears were cropped, which means parts of them were cut off when she was a puppy. 

Eugene is the same breed, but his ears were not cropped and the difference is stark.

Veterinarian Dr. David Mordasky, of Willington Veterinary Center, performs the procedure.  The practice is driven largely by dog show industry standards, he said. Still, Dr. Mordasky warns his patients’ owners that it’s not something to take lightly.

“They understand that it’s bloody, it’s painful, it takes a lot of aftercare.  And if they’re willing to do that and understand those ramifications, then that’s what we can go ahead and do,” said Dr. Mordasky.

Dr. Mordasky worries that owners who can’t find a licensed vet to do the procedures might do them themselves.  And they might do it with no anesthesia or pain medication and in unsanitary conditions, he said. 

Dr. Mordasky has rarely devocalized a dog or cat, but can understand why some owners choose to do it, he said.

Veterinarian Dr. Rick Esherick said he does not do any of the procedures.

“In my eyes, they are needless events.  They’re for the owner, not for the pet,” said Esherick.

Some countries ban pet modification procedures and several states have laws restricting such practices to licensed vets. 

Massachusetts and New Jersey ban devocalization altogether, except for medical reasons.  In Connecticut, it’s legal and Porter and Cody’s owners want to change that.

“We don’t really know what will happen to him, all because of a convenience surgery; a surgery that has no benefit for the dog,” said Perry.

Because of their breathing problems, neither Porter nor Cody can exercise for more than a couple of minutes, their owners said.  Overheating and choking are a constant worry and the consequences of a controversial practice, Perry and Rawson said.

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