Tibetan Mastiff
File photo: A Tibetan mastiff China Photos/Getty Images

An Oregon couple have no choice but to surgically silence their dogs after neighbours complained about their constant loud barking. The Oregon Court of Appeals made the ruling on Tuesday 30 August, reports Oregon Live. It ruled that 'debarking' a dog by surgically removing vocal chords is an appropriate solution to the noise nuisance.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2012 by Debra and Dale Krein against their neighbours, Karen Szewc and John Updegraff, who keep the dogs as working animals on their farm. They currently own six Tibetan and Pyrenean Mastiffs.

The dogs' barking, sometimes starting as early as 5am, disrupted the Kreins' lives, scared their children and discouraged their family from visiting, they had claimed.

In 2015, the Jackson County Circuit Court ruled that Szewc and Updegraff owed the Kreins $238,000 in compensation. However, the Kreins protested that although it was fair compensation for the years of noise disturbance they endured, it wouldn't solve the problem.

The Oregon Court of Appeals then took over the case. Judge Timothy Gerkin agreed that the initial ruling would result in the Kreins filing lawsuit after lawsuit to seek compensation. He called it a "judicial merry-go-round".

Contacted by Oregon Live, Szewc explained that she didn't own the dogs "to harass the neighbours. We have the dogs to protect our sheep." However, the scale of her farm activities were deemed too small to fall under farm-use laws.

Szwech and Updegraff failed to control the barking by other means, such as erecting a barrier between the properties, using citronella sprays or shock collars. The court ruled that the only viable option was to have the dogs debarked.

Debarking involves surgically modifying a dog's vocal chords. In some cases, it can result in total removal. The US National Animal Interest Alliance describes it as a way "to lower the volume of the dog's bark and the ability of the bark to carry over a wide area."

The practice has caused an ethical dilemma for decades. Animal rights activists, such as Peta, argue that barking is "a dog's means of communicating many feelings," and that depriving them of these means for human convenience is "unjustifiably cruel". Furthermore, the surgical procedure is believed to leave animals experiencing a lot of post-surgery pain.

In 2010, a veterinarian advocated for the surgery. Talking to the New York Times, Dr Sharon L. Vanderlip explained that the dogs "recover immediately and they don't ever seem to notice any difference." She went on to say that debarking was a good alternative to more final decisions, such as euthanising the dogs.