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Should the U. S. Have Anti-Declaw Laws?

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The declawing of cats is a relatively new surgical procedure, practiced most commonly in North America. Declawing, or onychectomy, is the surgical amputation of the first joint of a cat's toes, including the nail. It is commonly performed using a guillotine-type blade, and is always done under general anesthesia. Because of associated post-operative pain, pain control medication is often prescribed for the recuperating cat. Laser declawing, more recently introduced, is said to be safer and less painful, with a quicker recovery and less need for post-operative pain medication.

A third procedure, tendonectomy, involves the cutting of the ligaments behind each toe, which prevents the claws from being extended. Regular trimming of the nails after tendonectomies is strongly recommended. The AVMA does not recommend tendonectomy.

The most common reasons stated for the declawing of cats are:

  1. To protect babies, small children, and immunocompromised adults from painful and potentially harmful scratches by cats.
  2. To protect other (declawed) cats from injury
  3. To save the cat's life ("It's either declaw him or have him put to sleep.")
  4. To protect valuable furniture, carpeting, and drapes from scratching damage. In a study at Cornell University, this was the most commonly-cited reason for onychectomy or tendonectomy.
  5. "My landlord or property manager requires it as a condition of rental." (Related to #4)

The burning question, then, is "Are anti-declaw laws needed in the United States, or will they do more harm than good?"

Latest Developments

  • September 23, 2003: The Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco, CA passed a resolution "strongly urging" cat owners and veterinarians to discontinue the practice of declawing native and exotic cat species. This was somewhat short of the original move to ban declawing, spearheaded by Commissioner Susan Wheeler.
  • May 27, 2003: May 27—The City Council of Malibu, CA votes to approve a resolution condemning the practice of declawing. The Council also voted for local veterinarians to require pet owners requesting declawing to view an informational video and sign a consent prior to the procedure. The measure was the result of efforts by Councilmember Joan House and The Paw Project.
  • April 29, 2003: California AB395, introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz and sponsored by The Paw Project, does not get the votes needed to pass committee. The bill is tabled until the 2004 session.
  • April 7, 2003: The City Council of West Hollywood, CA enacted an ordinance banning the declawing of cats; the first law of its kind in the United States
  • February 14, 2003: California Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-42nd District) introduces Assembly Bill (AB) 395 to prohibit declawing of cats. AB 395 will ban the inhumane surgical procedure, and if enacted, it may be the nation's first state law to prohibit declawing.

Fuss

In the United States, although many veterinarians refuse to declaw, including members of AVAR - The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, many more continue to practice this surgery. The procedure is also defended by the powerful AVMA, although they have recently softened their stance by encouraging member veterinarians to offer alternatives before routinely declawing.

Declawing for non-medical or cosmetic reasons (not for the benefit of the cat) is illegal or considered inhumane in many countries in Europe, as well as New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil.

Anti-Declaw advocates (often called "Pro-Claw") have been crusading for many years for similar bans in the United States. They believe that cats' claws are given them for a purpose, and that to deprive them of their basic form of defense, as well as their necessary tools for exercise and mobility is cruel and inhumane. Although consumer education has made slow progress, they believe anti-declaw laws are necessary.

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