Pet modification is a controversial practice that upsets animal lovers and some veterinarians. Owners get their animals ears cropped or tails docked and in some cases, a dog's vocal cords are cut.

Porter s owner, Sue Perry, calls him 6 years and 127 pounds of love and affection.

He looks like any normal healthy Newfoundland until you hear him bark. What should sound like a deep bark comes out as more of a wheezy gasp.

That's because porter's first owner had his vocal cords cut when he was 4 months old Perry says out of convenience in a process known as devocalization.

The same procedure was done to 11-year-old collie Cody. His bark barely comes out in a whisper.

Owner Susan Rawson who didn't want to go on camera, says Cody was a show dog before her family adopted him. He was debarked so he'd stay quiet in the ring.

Their owners say it's led to serious health problems for both Cody and Porter.

Scar tissue has grown where the dogs' vocal cords were cut, leading them to have trouble breathing. They also gag.

I don't think it's the right thing to do. It's like declawing cats or taking the voice box out of a baby. That's how they communicate that's how they talk. So I just think it's very cruel, said Rawson.

Lilly is a Great Dane and a show dog. Her ears were cropped, which means part of them were cut off when she was a puppy.

Veterinarian Dr. David Mordasky performs the procedure. He says the practice is driven largely by dog show industry standards. Still it's not something he takes lightly.

They understand that it's bloody, it's painful, it takes a lot of aftercare, and if they're willing to do that and understand those ramifications then that's what we can go ahead and do, he said.

Dr. Mordasky worries if owners can't find a licensed vet to do it, they'll do it themselves, sometimes with no anesthesia, no pain medication and in unsanitary conditions.

He's rarely devocalized a dog or cat, but says he understands why some owners choose to do it.
Dr. Cary Waterhouse of Lake Union Veterinary Clinic in Seattle says he believes ear crops are mutilation and serve no purpose in medicine.

Debarks are also a big problem because if the pet ever needs anesthesia in the future, the scar tissue that forms in the throat prevents the insertion of the correct size breathing tube -- making anesthesia even more of a risk for the pet, he said.

Perry and Rawson say because of their breathing problems, neither dog can exercise for more than a couple minutes. And overheating and choking are a constant worry.

Some countries ban pet modification procedures, and several states have laws on the books restricting such practices to licensed vets.

The procedures are legal in Washington state. Dr. Waterhouse says only a handful of veterinarians in the Seattle area will perform them.

The American Kennel Club says devocalization should only be done if the dog doesn't respond to training to control its barking, but it says ear cropping and tail docking are acceptable procedures.


Pet Dish blog: Dr. Cary Waterhouse on the ethics of pet modification

Humane Society Veterinary Medical Assoc. Devocalization Fact Sheet

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