Cat scratch fever?

NY makes moves to ban cat declawing

By Sarah Sidlow

Word to know: onychectomy. Not the feeling one gets when crying over cutting onions. It’s a surgical procedure that declaws cats—and New York is aiming to be the first state to ban the practice.

Reports estimate that about a quarter of all household cats will be declawed in their lifetimes. The procedure usually involves the removal of a cat’s toes back to the first knuckle. It’s already been banned in Australia, Britain, and a few California cities, including Los Angeles.

The move to ban is being pushed by the group Paw Project—and their representatives, Rubio the Spokescat and Buzz the Fuzz, a therapy cat—who lobbied lawmakers at the state capital.

Veterinarians and animal rights organizations like the Humane Society and PETA say the surgery is cruel and unnecessary. They argue it’s more like an amputation than a simple nail clipping (the process is similar to docking a dog’s tail or clipping its ears), and it can also lead to lasting health problems including pain in the paw, infection, tissue necrosis, lameness, and back pain.

Plus, there are other ways to stop unwanted scratching—like keeping your cat’s nails trimmed, providing stable scratching posts around your home, or applying special products to furniture to deter your cat from scratching.

To put it simply: proponents of the cat-declawing ban say they value your cat’s health over the wellbeing of your couch.

(Side note: The Humane Society of the United States does recognize an exception to their stance on declawing in the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors.)

But those who favor legal declawing disagree. They argue that having a cat declawed is better than risking ruined furniture, having themselves or their children scratched, or confining a cat to a crate or basement.

Then there’s the argument that under the law, cats are private property. Which means the government shouldn’t have a right to tell a private owner what to do with it, thank you very much.

Also, as with many things, government bans don’t always mean people stop doing the thing in question, it just means they may opt for less safe ways of doing it. Meow—thanks to that!

Still other opponents of the declawing ban argue that, while declawing is an issue, there are larger animal rights issues that deserve our energy—like breed standards for dogs that lead to consistently poor health, or the overt animal abuse and hoarding that often go unnoticed, uncorrected, and uninvestigated.

There is also some research to suggest that declawed cats stay in homes longer than cats with claws—as some of the most common behavioral issues associated with putting them up for adoption are scratching and destruction of furniture. Therefore, some argue, animal lovers might need to choose between two not so ideal situations: cats receiving unnecessary cosmetic surgery, and more cats being put up for adoption later in life.

 Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator  Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Question of the Week: Should it be illegal to declaw cats?


 Keeping their claws

Protecting cats from unnecessary surgery

By Terri Gordon

The declawing of cats is a barbaric, unnecessary practice that should be outlawed. The removing of a cat’s claws actually involves cutting off the tip of the toe, severing tendons and nerves, and leaves the cat to walk and jump on a stub—a joint no less. Now, multiply that by 10 or 20. Claw removal deprives the cat of its ability to fully stretch, and it strips them of one of their primary defense mechanisms. Lasting damage to tendons and nerves, and chronic pain are not uncommon after effects, and associated behavioral issues include increased biting and reduced use of litter boxes. Medically, there are few reasons to amputate a cat’s toes—additionally, the procedure, performed under general anesthesia, exposes the animal to the risks that accompany all surgeries.

Maybe it seems like a trivial thing to involve the law in—there are, of course, greater issues, say, human trafficking. And it seems education would suffice to reduce the problem. Unfortunately, those best positioned to educate pets owners on the issues and alternatives are veterinarians, who make good money—anywhere from $100 to $500—doing the procedure, and thus, there is a built-in conflict of interest.

It is estimated that roughly 25 percent of domesticated cats are declawed. Owners generally cite damage to furniture and carpet as the reason for declawing, not to mention human skin. While the practice has been fairly routine, over time, public awareness has made it less popular.

Several countries already ban declawing (not to be confused with dewclaw removal). Great Britain, EU countries, New Zealand, Australia, and the Scandinavian nations all restrict the practice. In the United States, awareness is on the rise, largely thanks to the Paw Project. The Paw Project is a nonprofit organization that advocates for keeping cats’ claws intact. It was started by Santa Monica, California, veterinarian Jennifer Conrad. Conrad specializes in big cats, and realized that many of her movie star clients (lions and the like used in movies) were suffering ill effects from having had their claws removed. As she worked to repair the mutilation, she found herself increasingly opposed to the practice.

In 2002, Conrad took it to city hall. She convinced the West Hollywood City Council to ban the surgery. They were the first city in the U.S. to do so. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) sued. And they lost. By then, more cities had adopted legislation banning declawing. Seeing the writing on the wall, the AVMA changed its stance on the practice, committing themselves to educating customers so that they could make proper choices for their pets.

The Paw Project has also supported corollary legislation against landlords who will not accept cats unless they are declawed. This legislation has been successful in both California and New York.

No state has yet banned declawing, though some have come close. New Jersey has legislation passed by one branch, now sitting to be taken up by the other branch. New York has passed laws prohibiting landlords from refusing to rent to owners of “clawed” cats, and an overall ban has been proposed. It is illegal to declaw big cats, such as lions and tigers, in California, but domesticated cats are not covered by the ban.

Removing a cat’s claws may be expedient, but is not necessary. Kittens may be extra rambunctious, but they do grow up, and generally settle down. They learn their boundaries. They can be trained. Providing them with places they can scratch helps steer them away from furniture and carpet. As for human skin? Well, as they say, you play, you pay! Those concerned about small children? Well, small children should never be left unsupervised with any animal, and even a declawed cat can bite,which is potentially even more dangerous. Too much trouble to train and supervise? That would fall under “irresponsible pet owner,” and that should mean, “No pets for you!”

It is ludicrous to adopt an animal and then set about to change its very nature. If someone wants a cat that doesn’t cause “normal wear and tear,” perhaps they should choose a different animal as a pet, or limit their acquisition to the kind found in a toy store—stuffed.

To opt for training and pet management over disfiguring surgery is just common sense. But as common sense is currently on its deathbed, it’s got to be a law.

Freelance writer Terri Gordon writes across a range of topics, including nature, health, and homes and gardens. She holds a masters
in English and occasionally teaches college composition and literature. Her blog, WordWorks (TSGordon.Blogspot.com) is a ‘bulletin board’
of some of her favorite things. Reach her at TerriGordon@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Claws give pause

Prohibiting declawing would decrease adoptions

By Don Hurst

As I write this I’m watching my eldest cat, Sunny, surveying the room from the top of his majestic cat tower. If Mercedes built a cat tower, this cat tower is what they would emulate. On the other side of the room my youngest cat, Reign, chews on cat grass that my wife grew from seeds. Yes, cat grass is a thing, and it winds these felines up like cat crack.

Evidently, Sunny doesn’t like what he sees. Pumpkin, the blind and deaf corgi with anxiety and bladder issues, gets a little too close. Sunny swats him on the nose. Punky runs for cover, which seems to be the cue for Reign to jump on Sunny. Which, in turn, becomes kitty UFC all over the living room with hissing and paw smacks.

It’s pretty adorable. I can laugh about it because Sunny doesn’t have any claws. It’s “Oh my god, look how cute they are,” instead of “Oh my god, how do I stop all the bleeding?”

Hold on a second. Sorry, I got distracted. Reign just climbed into a Trader Joe’s brown paper bag and is scooting across the floor completely mystifying Pumpkin. Now Daisy, the Australian shepherd, is nosing the bag protecting the corgi from certain death.

In case you can’t tell, my family is kind of stupid over our fur babies. I love them. My wife loves them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if she had to choose between me and the cats I would be hanging out under the Route 35 overpass. We bought a one-story house because we didn’t want our crippled corgi to have to climb stairs. This is how stupid we are.

So when we decided to declaw Sunny, it wasn’t something we just rushed to do. We understood that it would be a painful surgery, but it was absolutely the right decision. If the procedure was illegal, then there’s a good chance Sunny wouldn’t be a part of our family.

I first met Sunny over Skype during my last deployment. This malnourished white and black cat basically collapsed on our doorstep while my wife passed out Halloween candy. The frigid monsoon rains that just about drowned Dayton that year decreased the poor cat’s chances of survival.

My wife and son nursed him back to health in our garage while trying to find him a place to live. No friends or family wanted him. The no-kill shelters didn’t have any room. The only choice was a shelter that was one step above death row.

My family couldn’t bear to send him to likely euthanasia after saving him. My wife also said she needed a replacement for me while I was gone. (I won’t get into how a half starved stray cat could fill the void I left behind.)

The problem was that Sunny was an outside wild cat. He had claws and could use them. Accidentally hurting the dogs or our human child wasn’t an option. The choices were place him in a shelter that would have to put him down, let him go stray, or declaw him but give him a loving home.

Hold on again—he must know I’m writing about him. Sunny is rubbing against the laptop and sitting on my lap with half his body draped over my left arm. Now I’m one-handed typing like I’m in fifth grade again.

He doesn’t seem to hate us or harbor a grudge. Unless he thinks purring against my arm will somehow kill me. He plays with toys, licks the other cat, sleeps on my pillow, and chews on homemade cat grass. It doesn’t seem like a bad life at all. He does enjoy watching me use the bathroom, so maybe he likes me too much.

I realize I’m light on facts to support my belief that declawing should not be illegal, but my argument is more emotional than rational. We love our animals, but we still need to behave pragmatically. We provide food, shelter, and affection, in exchange they give up their ability to inflict real damage to the other living beings in the house. It’s a fair trade.

Now let’s get into some numbers. According to the Humane Society of Dayton’s webpage, over 50,000 cats roam Montgomery County. The Animal Resource Center takes in over 3,500 cats a year, but finds homes for less than half of them. Despite their amazing efforts, local shelters are often filled to capacity with stray animals. Eventually, many of them are put down.

It’s already hard to find people willing to care for unwanted animals. Not allowing people to declaw cats to protect others from possible harm will only make people less likely to adopt. Declawing isn’t pleasant, but it is so much better than the alternative.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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