Oregon appeals court orders couple to have dogs undergo shocking surgery for their barking

Tibetan Mastiff (file photo)

An appeals court in Oregon ruled that a couple must "debark" their loud dogs following a lawsuit by their neighbors.

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Karen Szewc and John Updegraff must pay for a surgical procedure known as debarking to cut the vocal cords their Tibetan Mastiff dogs. The couple bred the dogs in 2002 and received their first citations for violating Jackson County code in 2004 and 2005. Szewc argued that the land protected under a different set of ordinances because she also ran a farm with goats, chickens and sheep, which Tibetan Mastiffs are often charged with protecting. The court rejected the defense, fined the couple was fined $400, and ordered them to debark two of their dogs.

Neighbors Debra and Dale Krein filed a lawsuit in 2012 alleging that the couple did not take the necessary steps to silence their animals. Szewc argued that a cougar stole six sheep from the farm in 2010 after debarking her dogs, making off with "$3,000 of income." Regardless, a court sided with the Kreins in 2015 and ordered the couple to pay $238,000 in damages.

“The dogs are my employees,” Szewc said. “We do not have the dogs to harass the neighbors. We have the dogs to protect our sheep.”

“This ruling came as a complete shock to us,” said Scott Beckstead, senior director for the Oregon chapter of the Humane Society of the United States. Beckstead indicated that there were other solutions, such as sprays, that could be implemented to deal with loud barking.

Similarly to Beckstead, several other activists have decried the practice. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals released a statement saying that it was opposed to "surgical procedures that attempt to circumvent the behavioral issue while exposing pets to unnecessary discomfort and risk."

Debarking procedures are partially prohibited in six states.