A southern Oregon couple who breed mastiffs has been ordered to lacerate their dogs’ vocal cords, following a lawsuit by their neighbors who complained about “incessant barking”
The three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the “debarking” surgery is an appropriate solution to a noisy and relentless problem that neighbors had to endure for more than a decade on their rural property, according to the Oregonian.
The lawsuit began as a last resort, according to the neighbors who filed it, Debra and Dale Krein. They said they could no longer take the barking of the six or more Tibetan and Pyrenean Mastiffs, owned by the couple who lived next door for almost 20 years.
The barking started in 2002, but the Kreins didn’t sue Karen Szewc and John Updegraff until 10 years later, claiming the barking was a public nuisance.
Szewc and Updegraff kept sheep on 3.4 parcel of land near Grants Pass, about 30 miles northwest of Medford, and say the dogs were used to protect the sheep from predators. The dog-owning couple argued the public nuisance charge didn’t apply to them, since they ran a farm.
Jackson County cited Szewc for a public nuisance violation in 2004 and 2005, while the Jackson Circuit Court rejected the claim that their property was a farm.
According to the Kreins, the barking would start at 5 am and the “dogs bark[ed] uncontrollably for long periods of time while defendants [were] away from the residence.”
The Kreins made audio recordings to prove their case. They complained the barking affected their sleep, their children dreaded coming home, relatives were deterred from visiting, and they would turn up the volume of their TV to drown out the sound.
After a four-day trial in Jackson County Circuit Court in April 2015, a jury ruled that Szewc and Updegraff had to pay the Kreins $238,000 in damages.
However, the Kreins argued that while the money compensated them for several years of disruption, it wouldn’t stop the problem.
Debarking is a surgical procedure in which a dog’s vocal cords are cut out in an effort to lower the volume of its barks or eliminate them altogether, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.
The method is highly controversial. Six states have partially prohibited the procedure. Proponents say if done correctly, it can save problematic animals from being euthanized and still allow them to express themselves with a soft, raspy bark or muffled squeak.
The Oregon Humane Society has called it “cruel and unnecessary,” explaining that the surgery removes the dog’s primal means of communication.
“We are just shocked,” David Lytle, a spokesman for the Oregon Humane Society, told the Washington Post.
Lytle said his organization pushed for a bill to outlaw debarking surgeries in Oregon, but it failed a few years ago.