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Court orders Oregon couple to surgically 'debark' their dogs after neighbors’ noise complaints

A Tibetan Mastiff is displayed at a Tibetan Mastiff exposition on February 27, 2005 in Longfang, China. A court ordered an Oregon couple to have their dogs surgically debarked after their neighbors’ noise complaint. (Guang Niu/Getty Images)

A court ordered an Oregon couple to have their dogs surgically "debarked" after their neighbors’ noise complaint, the Oregonian reported.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, devocalization — or “debarking” — is a controversial procedure that involves cutting dogs’ vocal cords. The Oregonian noted that opponents call it “cruel and unnecessary” to silence a dog’s primary method of communication, while proponents say dogs can still use a muffled bark.

According to the report, Karen Szewc and John Updegraff live on a rural property outside Grants Pass. Their neighbors, Debra and Dale Krein, said the six or more Tibetan and Pyrenean Mastiffs owned by Szewc and Updegraff began excessively barking in 2002. The Kleins sued Szewc and Updegraff 10 years later, arguing that the barking started as early as 5 a.m. and often continued for hours. They submitted audio recordings in court.

Szewc and Updegraff said their property is a farm, and their dogs protect their livestock from predators like cougars. The couple was cited for allowing their dogs to become a public nuisance in 2005.

After an April 2015 trial, a jury ruled that Szewc and Updegraff had to pay the Kreins $238,000 in compensation. The Kreins argued that the fine compensated them for the previous disturbances they had experienced but would not stop the problem in the future. Judge Timothy Gerking then ordered that the dogs be debarked. An appeals court recently upheld his ruling.

Szewc told the Oregonian that her dogs are her “employees” on her farm. She currently has six dogs, but that number has fluctuated over the years. One of those dogs has already been debarked.

“We do not have the dogs to harass the neighbors,” she said. “We have the dogs to protect our sheep.”

She said the dogs bark at her livestock’s predators and therefore her property generates “farm noise.”

“The next line of defense is a gun. I don’t need to use a gun, if I can protect my sheep with dogs," Szewc said. "This is a passive way of protecting livestock.”

The Oregonian reported that a court found that Szewc's 3.4-acre property was too “small and unprofitable” to meet the legal requirements to “fall under farm-use laws that might have protected the sound of the barking dogs.”

Debra Krein declined to comment to the Oregonian.

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