Sam is my brother's dog, and he doesn't have an evil bone in his beefy body.
As my brother says, if a burglar ever broke into the house, Sam wouldn't attack or defend. He'd nuzzle his nose into the burglar's palm and beg to be petted. Sam is a true sweetheart -- and that comes from a grizzled typist who is by no means a "dog guy."
But Sam's history is heart-wrenching. Before my brother brought him home from a shelter, Sam had been mutilated in a horrible way.
A previous owner had surgery performed on Sam's vocal cords so he wouldn't bark anymore.
I'm happy to report that the surgery didn't entirely work. Sam still tries to bark, and according to several veterinarians, he probably thinks he still does bark. But the noise he emits is half squawk, half gargle. He wouldn't scare a flea.
His previous owner scares me a lot. Having a dog "adjusted" because his bark interrupts naps, phone calls and TV shows? That's way beyond me.
Even further beyond me: why a vet would perform the surgery.
Vets rank this operation in the same controversial category with declawing cats and cropping dogs' ears -- rare, legal, perhaps unethical but not unheard of. Yet I'd say vocal mutilation is the worst of the bunch.
His surgery turned a bouncy Sam into a pitiable, withdrawn, suspicious Sam. It took a boisterous living thing and turned him into a sad, croaking curiosity.
My brother doesn't know which vet performed Sam's surgery, and shelters will not say, for fear of getting tangled in lawsuits or bad publicity. Meanwhile, the veterinary profession hasn't banned the practice.
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, based in Davis, Calif., strongly recommends that vets not perform such surgery. But it can't order vets not to, because all vets are individually licensed, and not bound by AVAR standards.
Teri Barnato, AVAR's director, said dog debarking is "not generally something that's done." She said AVAR opposes surgery on animals that isn't "in their best interest."
An AVAR mission statement draws the line this way: "AVAR believes that the veterinarians' primary responsibility is the welfare of their patients, rather than the aesthetic preferences of the guardians."
Are individual vets shying away from "Sam surgery"? Most in the Washington area say they are, and always have.
"In my mind, it's a pointless surgery," said Kathi Cowe, of the VCA Square Animal Hospital in Upper Marlboro. She said some dogs are depressed after the surgery, and anxious because they can't bark. "I'm sure it's a painful procedure," she said.
Dr. Cowe said she and other vets regularly suggest alternatives such as anti-anxiety medications and behavior modification.
Tabitha Copley, of MacArthur Animal Hospital in Northwest Washington, also refuses to perform "Sam surgery." "I would rather the dog go through noninvasive training," she said. She recommends collars that emit a slight shock or spray sharp- smelling oil in a dog's face when it barks.
George Siemering, of SouthPaws Veterinary Center in Springfield, said he has performed "Sam surgery" three or four times in 30 years of practice. "I'm against it," Dr. Siemering said. "I really sit down and talk to the people who ask me to do this surgery and really look for other alternatives."
If only one of these vets had seen Sam before his fateful day. But there are other Sams and other vets -- and still no fire wall against the surgery.
There should be. Man's best friend should never be treated like man's biggest annoyance.
The veterinary profession needs to step up and find a binding way to end this barbarism. To leave it to the individual vet is to allow the occasional renegade to make a buck and a reputation at an animal's expense.
As we wait for the fine day when there are no additional Sams, I offer this excellent comment, from Belle Cadiz, administrator at the Cherrydale Veterinary Clinic in Arlington.
"If you don't want your dog to bark," she said, "you might as well get a cat."
SEND A KID TO CAMP
Yes, Virginia (and D.C. and Maryland), we accept pennies for our annual fund-raising drive. If you have a bucketful or drawerful, get them to me at 1150 15th St. NW. and I'll do the rest. The pennies don't need to be rolled, counted or clean. Thanks very much.
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of June 10: $30,874.54.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.