Oregon couple court ordered to ‘debark’ their loud dogs

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)

In an unusually cruel and ridiculous court order, a southern Oregon couple must quiet their barking dogs by having their dogs surgically “debarked” after noise complaints from their neighbors. Karen Szewc and John Updegraff live on a rural property just outside Grants Pass. The case goes clear back to 2002, when their neighbors, Debra and Dale Krein, initially complained the six or more Tibetan and Pyrenean Mastiffs began to excessively bark.

A decade later, the Kleins sued Szewc and Updegraff arguing the barking would start as early as 5 a.m. and often continue for hours. The Kleins even used audio recordings in court.

The controversial procedure to devocalize or “debark” a dogs’ vocal cords was ruled by the Appeals Court as an appropriate solution to silence the dogs, who have bothered the neighbors for more than a decade on their rural property in Southern Oregon.

Szewc and Updegraff live on a farm, and their dogs protect their livestock such as sheep from predators such as cougars. In 2005, the couple was cited for allowing their dogs to become a public nuisance, and were ordered to pay a $400 fine in 2006 by county hearings officer Donald Rubenstein – as well as have their dogs debarked or removed from the land.

 

 

Here’s where it got even weirder. The Oregonian reports Rubeinstein found that Szewec’s farm activities were “so small and unprofitable” they were not protected under farm-use laws. Who are they to determine how large a farm is before the farmers are allowed to protect their livestock? Szewec and Updegraff counter-argued they pulled in $26,000 last year on their 3.4-acre parcel which is populated by goats, chickens, and sheep.

A jury later ruled after an April 2015 trial that Szewc and Updegraff were expected to pay the Kreins $238,000 in compensation. The Kreins argued while the fine may compensate for the dogs disturbing their neighbors in the past, it would, of course, do nothing to stop the problem in the future. Judge Timothy Gerking then ordered the Kreins debark their dog.

While Szewec tells the Oregonian she currently has six dogs, which she considers her “employees” on her farm, that number has fluctuated over the years. One of their dogs has even been debarked in the past.

“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.”

According to The Oregonian, this insane procedure is said to be outlawed in six states, and rarely is enforced by courts in Oregon as these disputes are generally resolved long before getting that far. A spokesman for the Oregon Humane Society, David Lytle, said his organization pushed for a bill to outlaw debarking surgeries in Oregon, but unfortunately, it failed a few years ago.

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