2016-06-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Legislation was introduced in Albany that would make declawing cats illegal. If passed, New York would be the first state to have such a law. Get ready for a cat fight, since declawing is a controversial topic.

Presently there is a similar bill before the state Senate (S. 5084) and

Assembly (A. 1297) but no vote is scheduled yet. NYS Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat, is the author of the Assembly bill, which would make it crime for anyone to declaw a cat or other kind of animal. The measure recently gained Republican co-sponsors in the Senate, increasing its chances of advancing, though it is still at the committee stage. (A similar measure stalled in committee in Hawaii in 2015.)

Rosenthal is an advocate fighting against the mistreatment of animals. She represents Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Two years ago she pushed through a bill banning the tattooing or piercing of pets. (I imagine this doesn’t include ID tattoos some breeders use. Also racing Greyhounds have ID tattoos in their ears.)

“This is just the next step in my agenda,” Rosenthal says. “People do a lot of cruel and inhumane things to animals and I’ve passed a number of laws for protecting them. There’s practically no good reason to declaw a cat. It’s really a horrific thing to do to an animal and that’s why I want it outlawed.”

Declawing is illegal (or considered unethical by veterinary groups) in most European countries and in Britain as well as Australia or New Zealand. In Israel, the punishment for declawing a cat could be as steep as a year in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian who runs The Paw Project, an anti-declawing group, feels the rest of the world considers declawing mutilation of the cat. Conrad’s group led successful efforts to ban declawing in several CA cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

Let’s examine the rationale behind a declawing ban and then reasons some disagree about such a law. Yours truly feels compelled to interject her opinion at the end. (This is why I do love writing a column rather than a news story.)

Ban cat declawing: The veterinary term for declawing is “flexor tendonectomy.” Proponents of the ban say many owners do not understand the surgical procedure. They think only the cat’s nails are removed when actually the operation involves multiple amputations of the last bone of each of the cat’s digits. The act of declawing involves cutting bone, tendon and nerves from cats’ toes either with a scalpel or laser.

“It’s like taking off the first knuckle of each of your fingers,” says Rosenthal, “Cats are born with claws and they are meant to have claws. It’s cruel to remove them for the sake of human convenience and saving your furniture.” The only exemption from the ban in the bill is allowing the procedure when a cat has a medical condition such as a tumor on the toe or a chronic paw infection.

American veterinarians recently agreed to label declawing an “amputation” that “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above- normal health risk for its owner(s),” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

PETA, the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the US are strongly opposed to declawing. These groups believe the surgery can negatively affect a cat’s ability to walk properly, and can contribute to paw irritation. Alternatives to declawing include providing domesticated cats with scratch posts, trimming claws and gluing soft plastic caps to cats’ nails to prevent them from roughing up furniture.

Proponents say declawing does not keep cats in households. Instead, the disfiguring, painful procedure can lead to biting and avoiding the litter box. These are two reasons owners surrender their cats. A Washington State Veterinary Medical Summation reports up to 50% of cats have negative effects right after being declawed, while 20% have long-term problems.

They also complain veterinarians are not using declawing as a last resort, or advising clients about alternative solutions like keeping cats’ nails cut short or teaching cats to use scratching posts. The questionable procedure is being done to from 19% to 46% of the US pet cat population.

Allow cat declawing: Many feel a ban on declawing is intrusive. The decision should be made on a case-by-case basis by the client and veterinarian. When the procedure is done by a capable surgeon, the cat heals well and doesn’t suffer long-term effects. There are rescuers who would much rather see a cat spend its life declawed in a doting, indoor home then be put outside, surrendered to a shelter or put down because of destructive or hurtful scratching.

The NYS Veterinary Medical Society opposes this legislation, saying that if the bill passes it will be an utter catastrophe. The society says that the procedure can save cats with destructive scratching behavior from being euthanized. Meanwhile, the AVMA states: “Despite the controversy, however, there are some situations in which declawing may be considered, such as when a cat’s excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior causes risk of injury to immune-compromised people or remains destructive despite conscientious attention to behavioral modification and alternatives.”

I agree with the opponents of a declawing ban, and recall having this conversation with my vet 20 years ago where we both agreed we’d prefer to see a cat declawed and cherished, rather than left to fend for itself because of destructive behavior. I never declawed my own cats but often wish I had done so with my three-legged cat who wreaked havoc on us and our furniture for 17 years. I hesitated after his leg was amputated because I feared declawing would affect his balance.

As for the adverse behavior after declawing, most claims of bad behavior are based on anecdotal remarks rather than a long term study. We’ve seen emotionally disturbed declaws as well as cats with claws. Which came first, the bad behavior or the declawing? It becomes a chicken/egg conundrum.

Some rescuers become livid when applicants say they might declaw the cat. At times, excellent adopters are turned down, and cats linger in cages. No matter what paperwork adopters sign, once that person owns the cat, the rescue group doesn’t know if their rules are upheld unless they check periodically.

At Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W.Babylon: “Hey Zeus” 6-167 a brave, dynamic tabby is recovering from skin graft surgery to repair deep wounds. He’s young and quite friendly. “Neron” 16-226 a Pom/Fox Terrier was surrendered with his brother due to family allergies. Now he waits alone.

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