Oregon court rules couple must pay neighbors $238K, ‘debark’ nuisance dogs

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon court ruled a couple must have their dogs surgically “debarked” after causing their neighbors several years of disruption.

The Oregon Court of Appeals determined Wednesday that the devocalization operations were necessary since the dogs’ owners, Karen Szewc and John Updegraff, had not done enough to quiet the Tibetan and Pyrenean Mastiffs dogs, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The surgery involves cutting an animal’s vocal cords and is banned in six states under certain circumstances, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Neighbors Debra and Dale Krein of Rogue River decided to file the lawsuit as a last resort after enduring more than a decade of nuisance barking by six or more dogs. The loud barking begins as early as 5 a.m. and has caused the family and their guests discomfort to the point where the children dread coming home, according the Kreins.

The dogs bark when they sense predators and are necessary to keep the livestock on her rural southern Oregon property protected, Szewc said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive.

“The dogs are my employees,” she said. “We do not have the dogs to harass the neighbors. We have the dogs to protect our sheep.”

In April 2015, the Jackson County Circuit Court ordered Szewc and her husband Updegraff pay $238,000 to the Kreins as compensation, but the Kreins argued the court ruling would not do anything to stop the noise. The Appeals Court upheld the $238,000 decision and a ruling ordering the dogs be debarked to avoid a “judicial merry-go round”.

Szewc fears that the court ruling will put her small farm in danger. In 2010, the couple went through with court directive and had one of their dogs debarked. As a result, a cougar successfully made off with six lambs in a week, resulting in a $3,000 loss, Szewc said.

County hearings officer Donald Rubenstein determined that the Szewc and Updegraff’s land did not qualify for farm-use laws that permit the sound of barking dogs.

Szewc is debating whether they will follow the court order or appealing the decision.

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