Declawing debate: Activists want to make it illegal to declaw cats

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DENVER -- The battle over declawing cats is growing in Colorado.

Animal rights activists say it’s cruel and barbaric. They’re leading a new movement to ban the procedure, making it illegal in our state. But some cat owners say that’s going too far.

Popcorn is a 15-year-old mild-mannered cat even when he’s annoyed by the family.

“He doesn't like Bella. But Bella wants his attention, only his attention,” says Maylou of Popcorn.

She says he’s a far different feline from the one she brought home when he was five weeks old.

'I noticed my son was just bleeding … He told me the cat attacked me,” says Maylou.

Popcorn scratched her then 9-year-old son Josh, so severely he needed about a dozen stitches.

“I told them I did not want the cat at all, that I want to get rid of him, that I don't want him close to my kids anymore,” she says.

But she says the Humane Society wouldn't let her relinquish or euthanize Popcorn.

A veterinarian offered her an alternative.

“He advised me that usually they don't recommend it, but if I want to keep him that that would be the only choice for me,” she says.

So Popcorn underwent a common procedure now considered controversial: onychectomy or cat declawing.

“Nobody would think of taking the teeth out of a puppy because it chews slippers. But we readily declaw a kitten because it's scratching the couch,” says Jennifer Conrad, film maker of the documentary, "The Pet Project."

The veterinarian and advocate now heads up a movement to ban the surgery in Colorado.

A few weeks ago in Denver, she debuted her documentary, which shows some of her big cat clients crippled by the procedure.

The movie documents her successful battle to have the elective surgery banned in several California cities.

“It's not pulling the nail out. It is cutting this whole bone off. And you can imagine how excruciatingly painful that is,” says Conrad.

She says it's the equivalent of amputating a person's fingers at the top knuckle.

Conrad says it can lead to even more problems, including biting and refusing to use the litter box, which can doom a cat to a shelter or death.

“If somebody is intolerant of a cat scratching a couch, then they're really intolerant of the behavior problems that a cat begins to have from being declawed,” says Conrad.

Nobody could get near this cat. He would brush the cage and attack,” says a worker about a declawed cat at Max Fund, a no-kill shelter in Denver.

Out of about 300 cats, a dozen are declawed, some with behavioral problems.

“We've noticed it in a lot of declawed cats. That they have tendency to smack or bite. I don't say all of them,” says the worker.

As a result, the shelter won’t allow anyone to adopt a cat that plans to declaw it.

“Those of us who love and work with cats, we struggle with it every day,” says Rebecca Ruch-Gallie of Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The procedure is taught as an elective to students.

“We teach it because if we don't teach it the right way it can have catastrophic outcomes. It can be very debilitating for the cat. It can be very painful for the cat. We can get regrowth of claws, if it's not done properly. So we want to make sure if our students are performing the procedure, they do it properly,” she says.

Ruch-Gallie says the surgery is usually a benefit to the owner—for their health—if they're elderly, diabetic or have compromised immune systems.

She says she's unsure about banning the surgery.

“I would like us to really be careful about laws we pass that impact the overall welfare of cats in long-term. Because we don't have sufficient data, we don't know what the ramifications would be if this legislation is passed,” she says.

And the verdict is still out when it comes to the American Veterinary Medical Association which states: “There is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavior abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups.”

The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association has no position on declawing.

Some vets say there are less painful alternatives to declawing, like scratching posts.

You can trim their nails weekly.

There are also soft plastic caps, you glue to a cat's sharp claws. And you can try these clear, double-sided sticky strips you place on furniture.

There are many alternatives.

Conrad wants cat owners to be aware of these choices. But more importantly, she wants them to know declawing is cruel and banned in most parts of the world.

“I think it's grievous we still do this and the rest of the world doesn't, she says.

But for Popcorn and his owner, declawing worked.

"I love the cat so much. Sometimes I don't even remember what I did to him,” says Maylou.

And she can't imagine having made the wrong decision 14 years ago.

“Otherwise, I wouldn't have him here,” she says.

Conrad estimates one in four cats is declawed in the United States.

But every veterinarian we talked to say they rarely perform the procedure.

CSU has done just three so far since July and eight all of last year.



  • Juli

    The cat scratched your stuff? Your stuff? Seriously? Why do you have animals if you care more about your stuff than mangling them to keep it pristine. You don’t deserve animals. Clip their nails, get them a scratching post, use double-sided tape, try soft paws. Jesus you are lazy. And as for Popcorn’s owner, did you ask your child what did you do to the cat before it clawed you? I have seen literally hundreds of kids interact with cats at our shelter and about 1 in 10 approach the cats quietly and calmly. The rest are spazes and if I were a cat I’d try to defend myself too. Talk to your kids how to treat animals. It will help them with humans too!

  • Louise McElhill

    I had never heard of declawing until 30 years ago when I moved to Canada from England. It just isn’t done in the U.K. I have read much about the procedure and it’s consequences. The fact that 25% of cats in the US are declawed is appalling ( it is also done here in Canada). I would like to see a total ban. Cats cannot tell you about the extent of their pain or the huge impact it has on them and a significant impact it is. To say that if there is no option to declaw then there will be more cats in shelters is just a feeble excuse. Cats come with claws – get over it! If you don’t want a cat with claws – you don’t want a cat. I firmly believe that if a cat was given a choice between declawing and death – they would choose death.

  • Sally

    Hey JT, I’m not a hypocrite! We do sponsor 4 children. How about you? This is all crazy, do you have any idea how many cats are in shelters or are thrown out? I don’t but I know the number is mind blowing and sad. So point being if you have people who love cats and want to give them a forever loving home but choose to have their cat declawed then that’s their choice and to top it off their is one less cat out of the shelters, streets, barns, some dogs mouth… My cats are so happy and are so loved even though they have no nails. I still say get off the control issue about declawing and go help out some orphans!!!

  • The Catlady

    “And the verdict is still out when it comes to the American Veterinary Medical Association which states: “There is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavior abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups.”

    Oh really? Did they forget about the study back in 2001 IN THEIR OWN JOURNAL?
    In a study published in the January, 2001 JAVMA, 33% of 39 (1 in 3) cats that underwent onychectomy (declawing) developed “at least” one behavior problem immediately after surgery, with the most common problems being litter box problems and biting.
    More about declawing and science here:

  • blue_eyes

    Ok Everyone Is Commenting about Furniture. If Only I Could Post A Picture Of What My Cat Did To My Head. And Before Anyone Accuses Me OfMishandling My Cat You Should Know No One Was Touching Him When He Decided To Run Across My Face And Scratch Me Across The Forehead While I Was Laying In Bed. Luckily He Missed My Eyes. And He Does Stuff Like That All The Time. I’ll Walk By The Couch Where He’s Laying And He’ll Reach Out And Scratch Me. I Don’t Care About My Couch Which He Does Use As A Scratching Post As Well As His Real One. There’s Warranties For That. But Should He Scratch Me Really Bad One Day I’d Rather Have Him declawed Then To Have To Get Rid Of Him. And That Makes Me An Irresponsible Owner? I don’t Think So. Sorry For All The Capital Letters. Stupid Phone.

    • hrd2hndlecla324

      I love how some try and jusyify declawing their cats. oh my you got scratched poor thing. ever heard about trimming their nails by clipping off just tips? Pathetic excuses at best.

  • Cher

    Wow, the viciousness and ignorance of some of these comments, is mind-blowing.

    Let me get this straight, people who advocate for the well fair of animals are “losers?”

    One person went to far as to state that animal activists don’t care about humanity, but then ranted about how he wanted the children of those activists to get their eyes “scratched out,” or necks “snapped,” by a vicious dog.

    Hypocrite thy name is Vincent Wolf. You are the one without humanity if you honestly wish these horrible things upon innocent children. You are a monster.

  • hrd2hndlecla324

    My dog clawed my face one time while we were playing i didnt run out and have them ripped out of her paws I TRIMMED THEM!

  • Jasmine Hernandez

    Cats are born with claws it is natural. Leave them just how they are. If you don’t want your house clawed up just simply don’t get a cat.

    • hrd2hndlecla324

      Its pretty simple not sure why some people find it so hard to comprehend. Vets that truly care about pets and not just the money will refuse this procedure like my Vet in Hopkinton NH. He will not deal with any pet owner that asks for this procedure to be done. I love my cats Vet.

  • J.T.

    Hey Sally-Read what Robert said-declawing does not keep cats out of shelters. He has the stats and studies listed to back up his comments. You don’t. So…Robert is more believable than you.

    Hmmm, chopping off human finger and toe joints has been used as a way to torture humans. I’m against abuse towards any living being. Obviously you think it is ok to chop off toe joints. Wow and you say you are a “loving person” towards cats.

    P.S. You are spending too much time writing about pro- declawing; you’re taking time away from helping the orphans!

    We adopted orphans; 2 older foster children who were in the system–much more of a commitment to helping them than just sending a check now and then as you do.

  • Bob

    I don’t praise or use vets that declaw. I find this story disturbing. The CSU vet who educates students at CSU vet school how to declaw “the right way”? She knows how bad it is and the many complications that can and do come from this procedure. Two other vet schools in the US, one of which is Tufts, are not teaching declawing as they are opposed to this inhumane amputation which goes against the oath every vet takes, “to do no harm”. This sure sounds like a vet with a guilty conscience trying to convince herself and listeners that crippling a cat and inflicting a lifetime of musculoskeletal & arthritis pain is OK if she only mutilates a few of them a year.

  • Sally

    Hey JT your getting a little nasty there. You missed my whole point. Let me spell it out for you. You make it against the law, your going to have more cats euthanized because your going to have people who won’t get a cat unless its declawed. Is that what you want? Have you been around declawed cats? The 10 cats I know that are declawed are happy well behaved and kitty box trained. All the owners including myself are cat loving people. It’s a choice and you have your opinions and I have mine( from personal experience!). By the way I’m so happy you were able to adopt, that is awesome; unfortunately, we have a full house otherwise we would. God willing, hopefully someday! We send 4 orphans to school plus food, medicine, clothes… Our oldest is 17 and our youngest is 8. If we could send out checks to sponsor more we would be all over it. Sorry,you feel that way about us doing what we can but our kiddos our so grateful and thankful!! If only more people sponsored orphans. And our no claw cats love their home even without their claws. It’s a very sensitive subject obviously and if I didn’t know first hand then I’d probably be more on the animal extremist side but I do know first hand. Be careful what you wish for: you might just get it and lots more kitties will probably get euthanized because they’ll have less cat owners that wont adopt unless they can declaw. I know that’s what you want because y’all think that only cat pets should love their claws and be totally okay with the cats tearing up their belongings… So if you all animal extremist gets your way you better start hoarding cats or start eating them because there are cats everywhere who need homes!! Be careful what you fight for it might back-fire. I would rather see cats in homes then euthanized. Choice , Choice ,choice not control, control, control

    • cher

      @sally, yeah well dog barking is annoying, but most people don’t go and have their dog’s voice box removed, so your “logic” is ridiculous.

      People who would willfully ignore the pain and discomfort that a cat feels just so they can spare their couch, do not make good pet owners anyway. It proves that they are too lazy and careless to consider a less painful alternatives. Claw covers, nail trimming etc, are good alternatives that are not painful to the animal.

      If most vets discourage the practice, they being THE ANIMAL EXPERTS, don’t you think that those of us who don’t have a degree in veterinary medicine should actually listen to said experts? Or maybe you could go cut off the tips of your fingers, and then tell me it’s okay.

  • jabberwocky12

    @Sally, did you actually read the facts about declawing and cats in animal shelters? There is also no evidence to support your claim that legal declawing keeps cats from being euthanized. If you’re going to make claim like that, you need to support it with evidence, otherwise it’s just a supposition.

  • Sally

    Im saying you need as many people to adopt cats as possible This country is over populated with cats. I would love to know the number of cats being euthanized everyday in shelters also the number of cats thrown out; stray, barn cats.. You are taking away a group of cat owners whether you like them or not. I would love to see this passion fighting for our orphans!!

    • hrd2hndlecla324

      Im actually more of an animal lover than people lover that includes orphans. Animals need more protection and are more loyal and loving.

  • CatMom

    This discussion is not about orphans. We are talking about cats and the abuse they suffer at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting and taking care of them.

  • amber elliott

    11 23 13

    I worked with veterinarians for 6 years. I have assisted in many surgeries.. I front declaw all of my cats.. my 18 y/o old Siamese lived very well that long… my 16 y/o Siamese as well, and now my 8 yr old Siamese as well.

    You want to talk about something horibble? Do you know that male neutering is done under a paralizing medication and NOT a sedative.. watch a male cat or dog being neutered – that isn’t spoken of!


  • Lezlee Oxton

    I used to be completely against declawing cats. But 25 years ago my cat swiped at my 8 month old daughter, nearly taking out her eye. No, she didn’t do it on purpose but my child came first. I had that cat for 19 years, she had no behavioral issues and I could rest easy about my kids. After five years my current cat has not been declawed despite all the ruined clothing from his innocent kneading on my belly while he sits in my lap. He regularly uses his scratching posts. Now I have 1 yr old and 1 month old grandchildren I am considering it. Both of my cats were/are well behaved but the children come first.

  • CatMom

    Oh and I wonder if anyone else sees the irony. You say your cat is well behaved. So you’re going to reward that behavior by letting someone amputate part of his paws. You do not need to be responsible for an animal. Find him another home and you will have more time and money for your grandchildren. Hopefully they will be as well behaved as your cat.

    • Shirley

      My thoughts exactly CatMom. We are definitely on the same page. Love the excuses some use to justfy mutilating their cats paws.

  • Bob

    Declawing, devocaling ,ear cropping and tail docking– each are a mutilation, cruel and disfiguring surgeries which does an animal absolutely no good for their well-being. These procedures are only done for the vanity or self-absorbed wishes of the animal’s owner.

    “Laws cannot change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”
    Martin Luther King Jr.

  • B.

    Gosh Amber Elliot of Denver,

    That is so sad that your cats had to quietly suffer for so many years after you declawed them. After all, animals,(especially cats, more than dogs), don’t show their pain and discomfort.

    Humans can also live for many years, to a ripe old age, after they suffer an amputation. However, ask them, (for humans can speak), if their lives were enriched and happier or worse after they lost the ends of their fingers and/or toes, and if given a choice, which way they would have preferred to live.

    • Shirley

      I brought this subject to a few of my coworkers. One in particular took her one year old cat to be de-clawed and it died on the operating table. She has lived with the guilt ever since and vowed she would never do it again. She would rather live with the scratched up furniture and have a happy cat. Its barbaric!

      • jabberwocky12

        Thank you Catmom, for posting that article. Though the images are graphic and disturbing, I think it is very important, especially for those arguing in favor of this barbaric act, to see just how cruel this mutilation is.

        It makes me furious how some on here are actually suggesting that some cats should be declawed rather than be left in shelters. In fact, once a cat is declawed 30% off victims will exhibit behavioral problems, like peeing outside the litter box. Once the owner tires of this, they dump the poor cat off at a shelter.

        If you love your kitties, leave them as God intended.

  • Bob

    Additional information regarding declawing:
    “As drastic and dramatic as it might seem to cut off the ends of your fingers, the practice is likely even worse for felines, for several reasons, including the following:
    •Cats walk on the tips of their toes. The last bone in a cat’s toes is made for walking, running, jumping and climbing. The removal of this bone, therefore, leaves the cat walking on the narrow end of the middle phalanx, which is likely painful.
    •During the “declaw”, tendons that normally hold the toe in a comfortable position are severed. This frequently causes the remaining portion of the toes to become hyper-flexed, or to curl under. This is especially true over time, and results in what is, in effect a sort of clubbed-foot.
    •Some declawed cats will learn to walk the back portions of their paws. This, however, can cause changes in the shoulders, hips and spine.
    This leads to musculoskeletal & arthritis pain.”
    (From the Animal Ark web site. By the way, this rescue currently has 22 declawed cats that their owners didn’t want anymore after declawing them-declawing does NOT keep cats out of the shelters).

    Unfortunately your kitties can’t tell you when they are hurting as they are very stoic when it comes to showing pain and discomfort. Often the true extent of all of the damage done to the cat is not evident until months or years after the cat is declawed. Have a vet take digit x-rays of your cat’s declawed paws after they have been declawed for awhile and there will be bone spurs and arthritis in their paws and often in their hips and spine as well, resulting from the new way they have to walk after having their toe bones and tendons cut off. This is all evidence of the pain your declawed cats feel daily but have no way to tell you.

    I wouldn’t refer to any of the people speaking against this inhumane mutilation as “activists”, but as “advocates”; for they are speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves.

  • Lorrie

    Declawing is cruel. Taking an animals defense away because of a sofa. Why have a cat if you don’t want it to claw it’s natural. For all the supporters you deserve to have the tips of your fingers cut off because that’s what you did to your cat.

  • Lj

    @ Sally do you not understand you had your cats fingertips cut off. It’s the equivalent of me cutting the first joint of your fingers off How is this loving. You don’t know what your cat feels or thinks and what does orphans have to do with this this topic. Your really not a nice person I would never in a million years have this tips of my cats paws cut off for petty furniture. Why can’t you just appreciate the cat for what it is a killing machine. That why it has claws, not so some stupid human can rip them out because of a sofa. My cats scratched me plenty of times and you no what I bought nail caps no more scratching.

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