Pets 101

Grassroots efforts create landmark law

August 5, 2010 by Tails Magazine in Legislation, News with 0 Comments

Stella underwent devocalization surgery and can no longer bark.

An unfunded network of Massachusetts residents has done the impossible: Uniting under the banner Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets (CPR Pets), they passed landmark legislation that protects dogs and cats from a cruel, largely underground practice.

Logan’s Law took effect July 21, making Massachusetts the first state to ban devocalization of dogs and cats—elective vocal cord surgery performed solely to suppress or remove the voice. While allowing vocal cord surgery to treat disease, injury or birth defects, the law adds convenience devocalization to the offenses punishable under the animal cruelty statute with good reason: It’s risky, painful and provides no benefit to animals.

Veterinarians testified before the state legislature that animals face serious risks regardless of who performs the surgery and how the tissue is cut, through the animal’s mouth or an incision in the neck. Scarring, which may obstruct the airway, is common. Some animals gag, cough and struggle to breathe the rest of their lives; others die from heat stroke, aspiration pneumonia, choking or surgical complications.

After all that, shelters and rescue groups testified that devocalized animals are abandoned like any other, and barking is an insignificant reason for surrender in the first place.

Sadly, devocalization is more common than most people imagine. While we can readily see cropped ears, docked tails and declawed paws, vocal cords are not visible, so devocalized animals,  who sound hoarse or cough persistently, are usually assumed to have laryngitis.

Stella's Wound

Stella, after surgery

Who would do this to a helpless animal?  In the case of Logan, a proud show dog, it was his breeder who had him devocalized and then abandoned him when he stopped winning blue ribbons.  According to his rescuer, Gayle Fitzpatrick of Friends of the Plymouth Pound: “Logan couldn’t bark. He rasped and wheezed, gagged and retched till the day he died so his breeder could run her business near neighbors. No animal deserves this.”

CPR Pets spokeswoman Leslie Burg says nearly all the devocalized animals volunteers encountered in a year of campaigning had been owned by breeders, who may order the surgery when they—or authorities—don’t tolerate the sound of their many animals. Some were sold without disclosure to unwitting pet owners.

One cat had been devocalized by a hoarder, Burg says, adding that show dog exhibitors are also known to devocalize, to keep dogs quiet in the ring and in transit between shows.

Logan’s Law is CPR Pets’ second campaign. In 2008, it filed and passed the first state law to ban a new business model that rents dogs by the hour or day, like DVDs or cars.

Gayle Fitzpatrick sums up the elation of volunteers who worked relentlessly against opposition from monied special interests to pass Logan’s Law. “I hope this victory inspires other ordinary citizens to join together to ban devocalization of dogs and cats. Animals need our action, not just compassion.”

For assistance drafting legislation or conducting a grassroots campaign, contact Animal Law Coalition:  lauraallen@animallawcoalition.com or Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets: CPRPets@aol.com.

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