If Linda Rosenthal has her way, New York will be the first state to make it illegal to declaw a cat. The Manhattan assemblywoman has introduced a bill to ban the controversial procedure. Animal welfare advocates and cat lovers from around the country are taking the fight to the public.
“Americans should speak out against declawing,” declares Dennis Turner, author of The Domestic Cat, who wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in support of the proposed ban. Denver veterinarian Aubrey Lavizzo is leading a drive to make onychectomy illegal in Colorado. He calls it de-toeing. “As veterinarians, we take an oath that we will use our knowledge and skills to benefit society through the relief of pain in our animal clients. When you talk about pain in cats, it’s classified as mild, moderate and severe. Mild is a neuter. Moderate is a spay. And severe is a declaw,” he told The Denver Post.
Just using the term declawing gives people the wrong impression, explains Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian who has launched a one-woman crusade to convince the world that declawing is cruel. “Declawing is not at all declawing—it’s actually de-knuckling. If it were just the claw, it might not be so horrible. But because it’s actually the entire knuckle, the last bone in the cat’s toe, it is really an amputation. It is incredibly painful, and it does no good for the patient,” Conrad told Deep Roots Magazine.
The New York declawing bill would ban the procedure unless it is done to remove a tumor or for other medical reasons. It was first introduced by Rosenthal, a champion of legislation to protect animals. Declawing or deknuckling of cats is already banned in many countries, including Australia, India, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as seven cities in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Conrad led the fight to outlaw declawing in California. She is the founder of The Paw Project and director of a 2012 documentary of the same name that examines the harmful effects of declawing on cats. The New York Times called the film “a heartfelt documentary” that “will make any cat owner, and perhaps some fellow veterinarians think twice about declawing.”
The proposal to ban declawing in New York has ignited an intense debate. While most veterinarians say declawing should be a last resort, the New York State Veterinary Medical Society argues that cat owners have a right to decide what’s best for their cats. The battle over the bill is being covered by The New York Daily News and The New York Times. “I don’t think (declawing) should be an owner’s first option, but it should be an option,” veterinarian Chris Brockett told the New York Daily News.” Brockett is immediate past president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, which opposes the controversial bill.
The debate has been far ranging and touches upon deeper issues, including the ongoing debate about whether cats and dogs are mere property or sentient beings entitled to protection and consideration. “Cats are not little furry people,” writes Eric Boehm of watchdog.org, who took a stand against the proposed ban. “They are not people at all, in fact. They are, harsh as it might be to hear, nothing but living, breathing property.” Not everyone agrees. “Animals are sentient beings and not simply ‘property,’” according to Turner. “It seems as if some people are willing to do anything to please their own whims, make a pet that fits perfectly into their lifestyle and disrespect the consequences of the quality of life for the animal in question.”
The New York Times ran four opinion pieces written by experts who take various positions summed up in the headlines for each opinion piece. Animal behaviorist Benjamin Hart says cat owners should modify behavior and “avoid declawing.” Conrad of the Paw Project argues that “declawing should be illegal, period.” The surgical procedure has its defenders. Declawing can save cats lives, argues Alan M. Beck, director of the Center for the Human Animal Bond at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Becks writes that declawing is a “reasonable alternative” to abandoning a cat to a shelter. But Conrad questions this line of reasoning. “If an owner is so intolerant of a cat scratching furniture, that same cat owner is not likely to be tolerant when his cat stops using the litter box because the sand hurts his amputated toe nubs.”
The Daily News reports that one of the sponsors of the bill is Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Oneida County), who is allergic to cats. “Regardless of being allergic or not, he believes that animals need to be treated humanely,” Griffo spokesman Rocco LaDuca told the Daily News. Griffo agreed to sponsor the measure at the urging of a local animal-rights group that supports it, LaDuca said.