Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Politics of Barking

In surfing the dog blogs around the country, I was surprised to find the following:
OPPOSE MA: H344 passes house. Bill would end debarking in MA Goes next to Senate

Here is the actual bill and, sadly, despite the lack of support from the two major animal welfare groups, the MSPCA, and the Animal Rescue League, as well as strong opposition efforts of the AKC, Mass Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners, and the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, the bill passed in April of 2010.  So why did it pass?

Debarking opponents likened the procedure to slitting your mother’s vocal cords in one article, referred to as cruel and unusual punishment – for a dog?—leaving it barkless in another, and mostly portrayed as a cosmetic fix for people who couldn’t be bothered with behavior modification. While making for good press, it seems as though none of these is reality based, however.

Debarking, or devocalization, doesn’t slice vocals cords and the dog is not left barkless.  According to all the opposition, it is a rarely performed last ditch effort for dog owners who want to keep their beloved pets, but have been unable to keep them in a state suitable for living with others.

Worse than all of the above is the fact that it makes criminals out of veterinarians for performing the procedure unless a medical necessity is documented with the state. Some of the more egregious legislating as passed:

(b) Whoever performs, or causes to be performed, the surgical devocalization of a dog or cat shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years or imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years, or by a fine not to exceed $2,500 or by both such fine and imprisonment. In addition to this penalty, the court may order that whoever violates this section shall successfully complete a course of instruction relative to the humane treatment of animals or that such person be barred from owning or keeping a dog or cat or sharing a residence with another who owns or keeps a dog or cat for a period of time as determined by the court.
The one state representative who answered MassFed’s questions about devocalization had this telling response to its question regarding its possible motive for opposing the legislation: 

Q. Do you seriously believe that an organization dedicated to the care, protection, responsible ownership and support of dogs in MA, with a focus on responsible reasonable legislation would knowingly, intentionally put forward opposition to any bill that purports to be a reasonable piece of legislation that is “needed” to protect dogs from cruel and inhumane treatment?

A. As a dog owner I appreciate your passion and commitment to dogs and their wellness.  I believe your organization has the best intentions as do the many dog owners and groups who asked me to support the legislation.
So he played the popularity/re-election odds and based his vote to pass legislation against men on what was successfully painted as the emotionally repugnant act of cruelty to animals. Without proof.

Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association:  MVMA has come out with a position most all of us who are opposed to HB 344 agree with!  Basically:  the issue of whether or not debarking should occur is a procedure that needs to remain as between a veterinarian and the client on an instance by instance assessment.  It must not be a matter of state law.  It must not have draconian, ridiculous criminal penalties etc.  It must remain as a veterinary tool available as needed. MVMA opposes HB 344.  

Q. Do you seriously believe that the MVMA would take this position: opposed to what is allegedly a bill to stop cruel and inhumane behavior?  Can you seriously tell me that MVMA is in favor of a procedure that is cruel and inhumane?

A. I supported the legislation because it allowed debarking to occur if a vet felt it was necessary and needed for the dogs (sic) wellness.
If I may translate: Screw the dog owner! Screw the veterinarians! It's the dogs we have to protect from these mutilating fiends!

Here is a good Q&A with a veterinarian in the NYT, and a opinion piece from a local goat farmer who tries admirably to tackle the fallacy of “animal rights.”

What is most disturbing to me is that Representative Jennifer Callahan may best explain the problem when she said “"This (passage of the bill) shows that this issue is important to a lot of people, and puts Massachusetts ahead of the curve for animal cruelty laws."  [Emphasis mine.] 

Hurt a dog, we'll curtail your life.

No matter how repulsive I find cruelty to animals, it is not a matter for the state. Government, instituted among men, is to protect man's rights. That the supposed protection of animals would take precedence over a man's right to care for his animals as he sees fit - without state intervention - is more indicative of the loss of humanity than the widespread acceptance of animal cruelty would be.

To leave you on a better note (and not disappoint my children of the 80s readers), here is what you may have been hoping to find.

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