An Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered a couple to surgically remove their pet dogs’ vocal cords through a procedure known as “debarking” or “devocalization.” The court ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the couple’s neighbors who said the pets’ “incessant barking” had been annoying them for more than a decade.

The court said the couple had not done enough to quiet their pets and devocalization had become necessary. The medical term used for the devocalization procedure is “ventriculocordectomy.” The surgery is performed for non-therapeutic purposes when the pet owners choose to get it done. The goal in such cases is to minimize, muffle or eliminate dog barking or cat meowing. 

“Ventriculocordectomy refers to the surgical removal of the vocal cords.  They are composed of ligament and muscle, covered with mucosal tissue. Partial devocalization refers to removal of only a portion of the vocal cords. Total devocalization refers to the removal of a major portion of the vocal cords,” according to the nonprofit, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association also lists down certain long-term physical, psychological and behavioral risks of the surgery. Physical risks may include increased threats to physical safety of the animals as they are unable to ward off threats by vocalizing and also alert others to dangers. The animals are also exposed to the possible increased risk of pneumonia, breathing difficulties, exercise intolerance, chronic coughing or gagging and also an increased risk of airway access if the animal has to undergo any other surgeries in the future. The decreased ability to communicate in the animals also results in psychological and behavioral effects. It may also trigger violent or destructive behavior in animals.

Animal rights activists see the devocalization process as cruel. It is partially banned in six states in the United States, including Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Referring to the Oregon ruling, Scott Beckstead, senior director for the Oregon chapter of the Humane Society of the United States said there were other alternatives and remedies to deal with nuisance barking, including sprays. "This ruling came as a complete shock to us," he said. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also said it also was against the procedure. "The ASPCA does not support the use of surgical procedures that attempt to circumvent the behavioral issue while exposing pets to unnecessary discomfort and risk," it said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The case first began in 2002 and it led to a long-standing battle between the neighbors in rural Jackson County in southern Oregon. Debra and Dale Krein sued their neighbors Karen Szewc and John Updegraff in 2012 after enduring years of what they claimed "incessant barking" by several Tibetan Mastiff dogs owned by their neighbors, according to the court document.

"According to plaintiffs, the 'dogs bark[ed] uncontrollably for long periods of time while defendants [were] away from the residence,'" the court document read.

Szewc argued against the complaints that the provisions of the ruling didn’t apply to them because they ran a farm on a 3.4-acre parcel of land owned by the couple. The farm also had sheep, goats, and chickens. She said the farms fall under different ordinances. 

The Kreins claimed the dogs often started barking in the morning, as early as 5 a.m. EDT, sometimes waking up the couple from sleep. They also recorded the barking in order to prove their claims, the Oregonian reported.

The jury awarded the Kreins $238,000 for damages and the presiding judge ordered all the dogs on the property to be devocalized completely. "Within 60 days of the date of this judgment, defendants will make sure that all mastiffs on either property have undergone total devocalization by board certified veterinarian surgeons," the court document said.