Devocalizing Dogs: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” – Oscar Wilde
This is a true story. On a winter evening Julia Romanova, a 22-year-old Russian model, was walking toward a crowded Mendeleyevskaya metro station in Moscow. On the way, Malchik, a black stray dog who lived on the pathways, barked at her defending his territory. Romanova reached into her rucksack, pulled out a kitchen knife, and stabbed Malchik to death. A bronze statue of Malchik now stands at the entrance of the station. It has become a symbol of emancipation for stray dogs. The moral of the story is that barking is injurious to life, and if you happen to be a stray dog and value your life, do not bark!
Barking is normal
Barking is normal behavior for dogs. But if a dog is excessively into it, even its master may consider “debarking” it or devocalizing it. Well for the people who are not initiated in a dog’s life, “Devocalization—also known as debarking, devoicing, or bark softening—is a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia to remove portions of a dog’s vocal cords, the procedure is called ventriculocordectomy.
Surgery is harsh for devocalizing dogs
It is not always one who has to resort to surgery or take the harshest step. There are other measures in place to decrease the volume, pitch, and intensity of the dog’s bark. A dog can be made to undergo either partial or total devocalization. Spiteful barking can be tackled through training, by offering it a bone or a pat on the back. If that doesn’t work well then the dog is asking for punitive measures. At the next level, oral surgery can be performed. It is a procedure through which a dog’s vocal cords are suppressed. It can soften the tone or take away the barking for a while.
Why do dogs bark?
But the big question is why the dogs bark in the first place after all they have to spend a good amount of energy and strength to do so. Well, some dogs are born to bark, on other extremes, some don’t bark at all. Sometimes they bark to signal a threat or danger that others may not be aware of and they see it as their divine duty to alert everyone around. They have a nose (fun fact: dog nose is 10,000 times more sensitive than humans) for sensing dangers. While others for just being heard and registering their presence or drawing attention and getting some biscuits if you like.
Debarking/Devocalizing Dogs ban
Many countries have banned debarking. They say it is a cruel and unnecessary procedure. They maintain that it is done purely for the convenience or cosmetic preferences of their master. Moreover, if there are no barking dogs who would alert of impending dangers in the neighborhood, sometimes even the owner benefits from the excessive barking of dogs. Besides, it’s a safety valve mechanism by which violence can be averted. Besides, devocalization causes frustration, which may manifest in destructive behaviors or aggression toward others. Some dogs might choose to bite instead. And this could spread to the whole dog community. Dogs continue to suffer mentally.
Dog’s right to free speech in lieu of Devocalizing Dogs!
So much for the dogs now to our very own species where free speech is akin to barking in dogs. Free speech is to humans what barking is to dogs; a kind of catharsis for two different species. But both have their impending danger. Speaking freely or barking both are prone to Romanova’s knife! It can be slanderous, abusive, sacrilege, and outright profanity. Its other variants include blasphemy, irreverence, and criticism of established mores not to mention criticizing the powers that be.
Free speech that we cherish so many thanks to Article 19(2) of the constitution is not so fundamental after all and is the most contentious of all rights. Right to speech and expression can be offensive. It comes with its perils. The offended person can go to any length and stab like Romanova or slap you with a defamation case. And if the speech happens to question anybody’s religious values, God forbid it could come even after 33 years; vet it with Salman Rushdie.
Most of us, wear our identities on our sleeves. Our social, and cultural values, religious beliefs, nationalism fervor, and what have you are sacrosanct and we may go to any length to defend them. This hypersensitivity translates into zero tolerance towards criticism and we reach out into our rucksack searching for the kitchen knife. We don’t realize we also walk on the pavement which is someone’s home.
Similar movements in history
The state happens to be our logical extension; it is as ignorant, power-drunk, and corrupt as our morality to say the least. Think of the freedom of speech as a whip that can rip a person apart, even the state and its statesmen. Criticizing the leader or the decisions is not done. It is not that you were not warned. You were. In 1949 George Orwell wrote 1984, treaties on barking and possible outcomes, in the human context. We moved past 1984 38 years ago but it still haunts us. Winston Smith, a frustrated party worker who sees through the omnipresent ominous ruler ‘Big Brother’s designs is still figuring out how to come out of Room 101 where the devocalization procedures were done with finesse. Despite that, he is such a dog who would still commit ‘thought crime’ and would not indulge in ‘newspeak’ War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength!
Enacting 84 in 22 is exciting. A thought experiment where actors are real, some of them playing Winston Smith fighting for imaginary freedom and justice, in a world where no one else sees, dislikes, the machinations less opposes it. The media controls what people should think. He is having nightmares of the control of his thoughts and the morning after could easily become a twisted, cruel world where every movement, word, and breath is scrutinized by an omnipotent, omnipresent power.
But then he wakes up to a piece of loud music by the number who let the dogs out playing at 100 decibels. He tries to bark with the singer but stands debarked. But then a smile crosses his lips. He indulges in ultimate thought crime. Thinks of the adage ‘Every dog has its day’ and murmurs when is mine coming? And suddenly his invisible tail began to wag involuntarily!
The author is a is a senior journalist, columnist, and documentary filmmaker.
This article first appeared in The Times of India.