Oregon Courts: Stop Ordering the Debarking of Working or Companion Dogs!

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On August 30, 2017, an Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's order to surgically debark five working farm dogs in Grants Pass, Oregon, according to an Oregon Live article linked here.

The court decision linked here on Wednesday August 30th reviewed 2 things.  1. Whether the court in 2015 made a mistake to order the debarking of the dogs.  2. Whether the court in 2015 made a mistake in their consideration of whether the owners had “rights to farm”.  Karen and Jon argued a salient point that the people suing them had failed to “plead no adequate remedy at law,” which means the complaining neighbors in the 2015 case had failed to plead that the money awarded was not enough and they wanted the dogs debarked. Seems the appeals cited how just because it is not mentioned does not mean that it cannot still stand on this one.

In the appeal, the owners of dogs also argued that the earlier court decision may have made an error in determining whether they had a right to farm. The land is ag zoned, and they had Jim Johnson the Land Use and Water Planning Coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources Division of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, testify for them.  He testified that the use of guardian dogs for livestock is not only a legitimate farming practice but a recommended one. He also testified that he inspected Liongate and it qualified as a farm under Oregon state law, and had all of the elements of a "farming practice" as defined by ORS 30.930.

In a similar case, the State of Oregon Appeals Court in 2004 wrote the following:

"(2) The Legislative Assembly declares that it is the policy of this state that:

"(a) Farming practices on lands zoned for farm use must be protected.

"(c) Persons who locate on or near an area zoned for farm or forest use must accept the conditions commonly associated with living in that particular setting.

"(d) Certain private rights of action and the authority of local governments and special districts to declare farming and forest practices to be nuisances or trespass must be limited because such claims for relief and local government ordinances are inconsistent with land use policies, including policies set forth in ORS 215.243, and have adverse effects on the continuation of farming and forest practices and the full use of the resource base of this state."

Karen Szewc claims this will harm her ability to run her farm. “The dogs are my employees,” she told the Oregonian. “We do not have the dogs to harass the neighbors. We have the dogs to protect our sheep.”  Predators such as cougars and bears are a threat there.

This property is agricultural. Farms produce noise. Just as people who buy homes near airports need to expect noise from planes taking off and landing, people who buy property in agricultural areas need to expect farm noises.

Ordering the mutilation of animals in a civil suit flies in the face of recent landmark Supreme Court decisions that conceded animals are sentient beings and should be afforded some of the same basic rights as humans. Debarking is a cruel and unnecessary punishment, for animals who are doing what they are bred to do.


Debarking has been banned in six states, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Many veterinarians refuse to do the surgery on ethical grounds. Dr. Kelley Thieman, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences asserts  “Debarking surgery carries various risks." “During the debarking procedure itself, risks could include bleeding, swelling (preventing air flow), infection, and anesthetic complications.” As with any surgery, scar tissue is a risk that could obstruct the pet's ability to breathe.


The Oregon Supreme Court has designated animals as sentient beings capable of being seen in the court of law as victims.  In recent landmark rulings, the Oregon Supreme Court said that all animals should be afforded some of the same basic protections as human beings.

To quote from the eloquent Justices of the Oregon Supreme Court:
Fessenden/Dicke, 355 Or at 769-70:
“As we continue to learn more about the interrelated nature of all life, the day may come when humans perceive less separation between themselves and other living beings  than the law now reflects. However, we do not need a mirror to the past or a telescope to the future to recognize that the legal status of animals has changed and is changing
still[.]

Dale and Debra Krein, neighbors to the farm, filed suit in 2012 in Jackson County Circuit Court along with two other neighbors who were later dismissed as plaintiffs.

The original lawsuit filed an injunction based on the tort theory of public nuisance. "On February 3, 2012, Plaintiffs filed suit against
Defendants in Jackson County Circuit Court (the
State Court Action), seeking money damages and an
injunction based on an alleged public nuisance caused
by Defendants’ Mastiff dogs." Krein v. Szewc et. al. 2017.  

In 2015, the Jackson County lower court found  that the mastiffs weren’t ideally suited to be livestock guardians and ordered them debarked within 60 days or replaced with a more suitable breed.

Since when do our courts define suitability of dog breeds? This sets a dangerous precedent!  The Jackson County courts are taking on one of the most ancient guardian breeds known. Tibetan Mastiffs' heritage tests revealed the oldest link to  the grey wolf, more than 58,000 years ago, while other breeds tested were linked only 42,000 years ago. Tibetan Mastiffs have guarded livestock for the people of the Qingzang Plateau, Tibet, Nepal, China, and India for thousands of years, but a court in 2015 can take this important work away from a dog in southern Oregon? These noble dogs were once perceived as protective deities.  Henry Yule (1871) in his (1871). The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian, vols. I and II. notes a  priest’s account (Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, vol. 37) of a Tibetan mastiff beating off the attack of a leopard until the leopard split the dog’s skull open. How can one court decide that a breed who has worked for thousands of years as a guardian dog is no longer a guardian dog?

To add even more injury to the order for debarking of this beautiful breed, in 2017, the court of appeals has decided that every dog, not just the Mastiff breed must be debarked.  We cannot let this stand. This will set a precedent for more of the same or worse.

Oregon needs to step up. This is a call for a Writ of Certiorari. We are pleading with the Supreme Court Justices who have come through for our Oregon animals in the past to stand up for these working dogs now!

If you would like to help Karen and Jon with legal fees please click here.



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