In 2018, Salt Lake Community College student and lifelong corgi owner, Teresa Jack, adopted her third corgi named Watson.
Watson’s previous family had moved to Arizona and started living in an apartment. Watson’s barking, however, led to noise complaints, and soon after, the housing complex gave the family an ultimatum: “Debark” Watson — through a process known as devocalization — or risk his seizure, and a possible eviction as well.
The family ultimately decided to debark Watson, but two weeks later, they placed him for adoption regardless, due to a family member’s abrupt illness.
Jack said she doesn’t blame Watson’s previous owners for their decision to debark him under the circumstances, but she added that Watson has nonetheless suffered because of it.
“[In his previous home] he was not known to bite,” she said. “Once he came to us, he didn’t know how to communicate his needs and he couldn’t use his voice. Because of that, he is now snappy and will bite sometimes.”
According to the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), debarking “is an invasive surgical procedure that involves removing a large amount of laryngeal tissue,” which dampens the bark into more of a whisper. PETA further explains that the procedure involves “a great deal of postoperative pain.”
Following debarking, a dog’s vocal cords never grow back completely, and they thicken over time due to trauma. Jack explained that this inevitably causes many everyday problems.
“The dog will have a difficult time breathing, eating or drinking,” she said. “[Watson’s vocal cords] are always inflamed, so after he drinks, he will cough every time. Dogs will deal with irritation for the rest of their lives.”
Problems extend into behavior, too, Jack explained.
“If [a dog’s] problem is barking and you try to suppress that behavior [by debarking], it tends to make that behavior worse,” she said. “I struggle with Watson [in] trying to help him communicate his needs without being a danger to himself or others.”
When Jack realized people who met Watson didn’t understand what debarking is, she took his story to her growing platform on TikTok – which she used in 2021 to help pay for her late dog Ludo’s medical bills by selling cleaned up furniture.
Jack posted a video in early January titled, “The tragic story of how my corgi lost his voice,” which vent viral and garnered over 5 million views. In it, Jack explained Watson’s challenges and why she believes debarking needs to end.
“How can a creature survive after such a catastrophic loss,” she says in the video. “It’s illegal in four states and should be illegal everywhere.” Within 24 hours of uploading the video, Jack started a petition to ban debarking in Utah. The petition holds over 60,000 signatures as of April 3.
“TikTok can make a lot of change happen really fast,” she remarked.
Jack began meeting with Utah senators to petition for legislation dubbed “Watson’s Law,” a bill that would – with some medical exceptions – prohibit veterinarians from performing the debarking procedure. Housing developers, she went on to say, also shouldn’t be able to push tenants to debark their dogs.
“It’s legal in 48 states for housing developers to say, ‘If a dog lives on the premises, it has to have this surgery,’” Jack said.
Jack’s goal is to get Watson’s Law passed during the 2024 Utah General Session, but she’s well aware of pushback from organizations like American Kennel Club, a group that opposed a similar measure in New York last year.
“Breeders are the ones who want their dogs to be quiet, and [are] kept in basements most of the time, manufacturing puppies for them to sell,” Jack said.
No matter the outcome of the bill in next year’s legislative session, Jack hopes Watson’s story will make people reconsider debarking their dogs.
“We just want our advocacy … to turn into people making more informed decisions for their pets, and being able to have a choice that benefits the dog instead of them,” she said.