A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Pudgie Would Be Barking

Where it’s illegal to surgically de-bark dogs

Pudgie never liked Keith Olbermann. Whenever Olbermann’s news show, Countdown, came on on MSNBC, he would race back and forth between the two big speakers on either side of the TV, barking furiously.

Olbermann, however, always won. However furiously The Pudge barked at him, all that ever came out was a hoarse whisper. That was because Pudgie had been debarked.

He was a Sheltie who came to me when he was about 7 years old. I took him home because he needed to be somewhere where there wouldn’t be many people for him to bite.

Pudgie’s whole autobiography was written in his behavior. He’d been chained up outside for seven years, so he’d taken up barking at anyone who passed by. And if they’d come too close — and you could see that some people had obviously been taunting him, staying just out of range — he’d snap at them. So now, if you put your hand anywhere near his face, he’d snap at it. And then, apparently, he’d barked too much and the neighbors had complained, so his people had him debarked. All he had for a voice for the rest of his life was a hoarse whisper.

So, at home with me, Keith Olbermann always won the shouting contest. And for the eight years I had The Pudge, I never waved my hand in front of his face or tried to interfere with his bowl at dinner time. And whenever anyone came to the door — friends, visitors, the plumber, whoever — I would always say, “Hands up, please!,” like some polite highway robber, so they wouldn’t make the mistake of dangling their hands near Pudgie’s face when he came up to sniff them.

Anyway, back to the barking thing. The Pudge would be pleased to know that in Massachusetts, as of July 21, it’s now illegal to have a dog debarked. Under the new law, anyone in the state who cuts or removes an animal’s vocal cords for non-medical reasons may be fined or sentenced to prison for up to five years. The measure was signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in April.

Debarking is already illegal in New Jersey — as it is in the U.K. and most other European countries, including Turkey, and also Australia and New Zealand. West Hollywood, California, has also banned debarking, but as soon as they did that, the state of California passed a law, which was sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association, to prohibit any such bans in the rest of the state.

Last year, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring that debarking always be done by a licensed veterinarian. Why, you ask, would they need to pass a law like that? Well, Pennsylvania is home to the most and the worst puppy mills in the country. And puppy mills don’t like spending money on vet bills.

Anyway, it’s all progress. Right now, Pudgie can rest happy, knowing that, at least in Massachusetts now, dogs can keep barking at Keith Olbermann.