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Noisy neighbors can be a headache. Nuisance suits are filed constantly but they normally involve humans. Humans can control how loudly they play music or rev an engine but what about a crying baby? Or better yet, a barking dog?
In many instances, a barking dog can be silenced by letting her in the house. Dogs bark to communicate and often times they are saying “let me in.” But this story isn’t about the typical crew of barking dogs, it’s about a family who owns working dogs to protect their flock of sheep from prey.
The family’s Tibetan Mastiffs bark when a threat comes near the farm, alarming the sheep and the family that a predator is near. But neighbors are claiming after a decade of unbearable “noise,” they want action. And sadly, the court agrees.
An Oregon appellate court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the dog owners must get their dogs surgically “debarked.” Debarking surgery involves the removal of either some of the dog’s vocal cords or the entire cords, depending on whether it’s a partial or total debarking. Debarking surgery is considered to be inhumane, so much so that six states have agreed and have banned or restricted the procedure.
Besides the fact that this is an invasive surgery, “debarking” a dog means cutting off his way to communicate. It also leaves him more susceptible to certain types of infections. All so surrounding neighbors get a little peace and quiet.
The American Veterinary Medical Association released their stance regarding the procedure after reviewing the limited available data in 2013, since debarking is infrequently performed, that the procedure is opposed except “as a final alternative to euthanasia.”
“It is tragic that the dogs in this case face a mutilation so extreme that the American Veterinary Medical Association decries it as only suitable as a final alternative to death,” David B. Rosengard, an attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), told The Dodo. “Whittling down a dog’s vocal cords for barking makes no more sense than punishing a cow for mooing or a rooster for crowing.”
Karen Szewc and John Updegraff own a small sheep farm in southern Oregon. They have bred and kept Tibetan Mastiffs for years to protect their rare breed of sheep from cougars and other predators in the area.
Sadly, what makes the dogs effective is driving neighbors bananas. Debra and Dale Krein, the plaintiffs in this case, testified that they have suffered through the dogs’ constant, loud barking for a decade before filing a nuisance suit against Szewc and Updegraff in 2012. They claim that their living conditions are extremely affected, that their sleep is constantly interrupted and visitors refuse to come by.
The family insists, as farmers, they should be protected from the suit but the courts do not agree. In 2015, a jury awarded the Kreins $238,900 in damages. It was also ordered that any Mastiffs on their property undergo a “total devocalization” within 60 days. This order would apply to any new Mastiffs joining the household.
Last Friday, the court of appeals upheld the ruling.
This is an extremely unusual case. So far, one of the six dogs has already been de-barked. Szewc said to The Oregonian, “We do not have the dogs to harass the neighbors. We have the dogs to protect our sheep. The next line of defense is a gun. I don’t need to use a gun, if I can protect my sheep with dogs.”
The ALDF’s Rosengard remarks that at least the family has a humane option to move the dogs since the order applies only to dogs living on the property. Finding the dogs new homes could be a solution but of course, this puts the farmers in a tough situation. These dogs are loved and cared for and they provide protection for the sheep. The dogs have been with the family since they were puppies.
Do barking dogs in your neighborhood drive you crazy? What would you do about it?