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.

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71 comments

  • Meh

    if its so cruel, then please by all means come over to my house and replace everything that my cat has destroyed by clawing things up.

  • Kath

    I don’t declaw my cats after having lost one to a pack of street dogs one horrible night. Clipping off just the sharp edge of the tips ever since they were kittens has worked out just fine.

  • meg

    One of our cats broke a front toe a few years ago. We don’t know how or exactly when as it never seemed to cause her pain. When we noticed we took her in and the vet said not much could be done. Now the claw won’t retract and she gets it stuck on everything (carpet, scratching post, comforters). If it becomes more than a nuisance for her, I’d consider having just that one claw removed. I’d hate to see a law passed that would prevent me from helping her.

  • Sally

    I have a 11 yr old who I declawed as a kitten. She still thinks she has claws; she likes to pretend on the side of my leather couch. She has absolutely no behavioral problems and uses the kitty liter box. My cat before her lived to be 20 and had been declawed as well. She was the coolest and happiest cat in the world even though she had no claws!!!! The only thing with declawing is I think the cat should be indoors. I think the animals right extremist need to focus more on helping all our orphan children and get off this silliness!!!!

  • carol

    I have 7 cats, 3 are declawed. None have had a personality change, none go outside. I will get the other 4 declawed when I can afford it. My cats are happy, healthy and have fun. I just need to protect MY furniture, MY bedding, MY skin (diabetic2). If Colorado outlaws it, I will just go across the border to Wyoming, Nebraska or Kansas…

  • Jamie

    I have had many house cats over the years. I prefer not to declaw now but most I’ve had have been declawed. I have never had any cats that developed behavioral problems. My cats are happy and do not seem to have any lasting discomfort. They heal very quickly from the surgery and are running and playing within a day. If a law is passed banning declawing, I feel many more more cats with be euthanized.

  • J.T.

    If you don’t want a cat to have claws, then don’t get a cat. To the person who is worried about the ophans-put your money where your mouth is. Instead of spending money on declawing your cats, etc. use that money to help the ophans you are so concerned about. Otherwise you are just a hypocrite.

  • Robert

    Declawing does not keep cats in homes. In fact declawing increases a cat’s risk of losing its home because of the bad behaviors that happen as a result of the surgery. Behavior problems are a primary cause of cats being relinquished to shelters and the two leading reasons for cat relinquishment in the U.S. are inappropriate elimination (litter box avoidance), and biting–the two negative behaviors most associated with declawed cats.

    One study found that, when all factors were accounted for, the odds of being relinquished to a shelter were nearly double for declawed cats compared to normal cats. Inappropriate elimination was 80% more likely in declawed cats as opposed to normal cats. (*Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1996;209:582–588.)

    Veterinarian studies and surveys confirm this but many veterinarians ignore the evidence and turn a blind eye to the millions of declawed cats relinquished, abandoned, and killed in shelters every year.

    Surveys suggest that 95% of declaw surgeries are done to protect furniture.

    (*Declaw Update, Pulse, Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, November 2009, p. 4.)

  • Diana

    Cats come WITH claws. If you don’t like it or won’t take the time to teach your cat where and when clawing things is acceptable, then DON’T GET A CAT!

    Dogs ALSO have claws, and have been known to claw things as well as chew them, but you don’t hear about that, as it is common to trim their nails.
    YOu COULD do the same with your cat!

  • advocate

    after reading the comments I now know why I work with animals people can be so misinformed.I have two cats and have had cats all my life. And none of them have ever been declawed. Yes it is very cruel and mean. But if it keeps the owner “happy” and the cat out of the shelter then I`m okay with it.To the people who says the urinating outside of the litter box is a behavioral issue it can also be a medical reason as well. Like a UTI, kidney infection, or maybe because the box just needs to be clean. I am really happy I help these poor animals from the uneducated souls that we call human that are determined to own an animal of any kind. Please just get some animal education before owning an animal… Please.

  • shelly

    High time to stop this cruelty to cats. Why don’t the idiots in this country look into the British method of making cats’ claws less damaging? This is not rocket science!

  • Vincent Wolf

    Animal activists love their animals more than humanity and should be labelled misanthropes. I hope you freaks all get your children’s eyes scratch out and blinded by a viscious cat or your neck snapped by a Pit Bull.

  • Fast45

    Big deal about nothing … we trim Doberman Pincer’s ears … we “euthanize” thousands of unwanted animals every year … Heck, if we really want to abuse animals, we get jobs with the Police Department and shoot them at will. Shut up about cat claws!

  • Dean

    I have had 5 rescued cats over the years. All declawed and kept indoors. None of them ever had behavior problems. They all continued to act as if the had claws (scratching on furniture and drapes). I would not have rescued these cats if I could not have had them declawed. If this is made a law I will not rescue any cats in the future.

  • South-Wood

    To the article’s comments about other alternatives. We’ve had a total of 5 cats in the family over the years, every single one of them not de-clawed, every single one of them has destroyed multiple things around the house, primarily furniture. Anyone who has a cat understands it can’t be “trained” like a dog. They are independent spirits, which is the allure of the cat, supposedly. And we have tried all of the alternatives. Multiple scratching posts, catnip on the scratching posts, trimming nails, sticky tape (who wants to have guests over to sit on a couch with sticky tape all over it?), etc, etc, etc. Nothing has worked. My wife and I have this debate often. As a cat lover, she wouldn’t feel comfortable about getting a kitten de-clawed. Fine with me, we just won’t be adopting any more cats.

    So the question for the “cat people” is this: if you have to choose between adopting a cat out to a home where it will be well treated, taken care of, loved, and supported with any medical issues that come along (we’ve had thousands of dollars of surgeries, meds, etc for our cats over the years), or keeping the cat in a cage its entire life at a no-kill shelter, what’s better for the cat? What do you think the cat prefers? A few days of pain, which it won’t remember, and then a life of love and affection, or now pain for a few days, and day after day living in a cage, with little to no attention or affection?

  • Mariah Canfield-Jones

    i could not imagine my little Hazel without her claws, yeah, she claws the furniture, but i can’t have her going outside without them? She’s a house cat, but still I am scared of what might happen if she’s outdoors and has no defense against other animals, those claws are meant to protect her. And people telling me to declaw her? I would say not…she’s my little princess and I wouldn’t change a paw or claw on her

  • Shirley Munroe

    de-clawing is cruel! plain and simple! bottom line! how would you like someone to pull your fingers out of their sockets and them rip them from your hands. ITS TOTAL BS! dont own a cat then! because obviously you care more about your furniture then you do about the cat!

  • Ozark240

    Human abortion is cruel and painful but the mother that perpetrates the pain on her child has rights and her rights out-trump the rights of an innocent that can’t speak for him/herself. Cats are owned and provided for by a person that has rights to make decisions regarding that cat. The person in this article promoting declawing be outlawed insinuates the cat is held down while an evil human chops off his toes and if that were the case, of course, it would be excruciating. That’s not how the procedure is done. The cat receives adequate anesthesia, post-op pain and antibiotic medications. The cat spends a minimum of 24 hours at the hospital to receive IV pain med, observation and any medical treatment required. Upon discharge, there often is more pain med sent home and the surgical wounds are followed up and properly cared for. The result is that an indoor kitty enjoys a happy long life interacting with children and is able to be on furniture if his owner so allows.

    By contrast, the aborted child receives nothing for pain and no one takes care to preserve his/her body and keep it intact. There is no recovery time or second chance. In the case of late term abortion, if the child survives the trauma-with-intent-to-kill, no medical care is allowed but instead they are left to die on a cold stainless morgue table. Declawing doesn’t seem quite so inhuman, does it?

    A lot of animal activists claim that to declaw a cat is depriving it of a component of their natural state, yet the natural state of reproduction is not allowed. Every animal is to be spayed or neutered without question and without considering its natural tendencies. The surgery to spay/neuter isn’t painfree either. There are compelling reasons to spay and neuter and there are also compelling reasons to declaw and the decision should be based on a case by case basis between cat owner and the vet. A blanket law on this is unfair to responsible cat owners, infringes on freedom and denies the capability of individuals to make responsible decisions regarding their pet in consultation w/ their vet. As for the reference to other countries and whether or not its true that no other country declaws, we do not run our country and make decisions based on what’s popular in other societies or international law, so what is done oversees regarding cats isn’t much of an argument.

  • Daniela Basic

    @sally: if there is a medical indication for removing one claw, this will be still allowed. medical indications are always a way to have surgeries done. i am from austria. and in austria as in most european countries and most countries where cats are pets declawing is simply forbidden. declawing (= amputation of the first phalanx) is only done in the united states. i can and never will accept that a society wants pets to be crippeled.

  • Jana

    @ Meh, if you can’t handle furniture being scratched, don’t have cats. Where I come from, it’s illegal to declaw. People who care about their furniture simply don’t own cats. You guys are so used to getting to have both at once, it’s unthinkable to have to make a choice. But declaw serves the cat no good. It shouldn’t be done. I get the feeling it’s all about the money, else vets would not do it, nor recommend it (unless it’s an emergency). But for furniture? Really? Not good enough reason.

  • Christine

    In my opinion, people take pet ownership WAY too casually. Bringing another life into your home means a lot of work on everyone’s part. If you are not willing to take it for all that it is, then I don’t think a pet is right for you. Pets need to be given attention and they need to be trained. Taking an animal into your home, not taking proper, educated, and active steps towards training them, and then complaining when they don’t do what you want is irresponsible and ignorant. Declawing is not something that should be done casually, because one of your material possessions was scratched, or even because your child was attacked. These are all things that should have been taken into consideration before bringing the pet into your home. Euthanizing is also something that is devastatingly casual. Rehome your pet on your own if you can’t handle them. You don’t need a shelter to be your middle man. I am absolutely against declawing as it is a painful surgery that is unnecessary, and far beyond what people think. As was mentioned in the video, it is not the simple removal of the claws. I support its illegalization unless under extreme, serious (ie: NOT “He scratched my chair, take ’em off!”) circumstances.

  • CatMom

    Dear selfish and self-absorbed,

    If you value your possessions more than your animals then you don’t need animals. Period. And I think you should all volunteer to have your fingers amputated to show how “harmless” the procedure is. You make me sick.

  • lauren

    My question is what did the kid do to the cat? I bet the kid was inappropriately handling the cat. Lucky for them he didn’t turn into a biter instead. I refuse to agree with people who defend declawing its in no way necessary. If you end up being the unlucky person instead of some scratching You have a cat that pees everywhere and bites you And possibly lives in pain for the rest of their life. I’d rather find ways for them to not scratch things or Not get a cat if it concerns me that much .

  • Bonnie

    I have had several cats in my lifetime. They have all been declared and inside cats. If you let your cat outside, do not declaw them. Cats also fight with their back claws.

  • dallas

    What Ruch-Gallie says about the surgery being a “benefit to the owner—for their health—if they’re elderly, diabetic or have compromised immune systems” — is incorrect. Medical literature recommends NOT declawing cats in any of these cases because declawed cats bite, which is much worse in terms of bacteria and potential infection from the scratch. John Duran, the mayor of West Hollywood talks about this in the Paw Project film. He is HIV positive and follows this recommendation to never declaw a cat in order to avoid biting.

  • Kay Devlin

    I have been a vet tech for many years ans have seen the horrors of declawing. Owners drop their cat off then pick them up a few days later and they do not see that cat in pain, blood all over the caging, biting at their bandages etc. Horrible! If you think it is ok ask to watch the procedure and you tell me after.. inhumane mutilation. End of story.

    • hrd2hndlecla324

      Yes thank you maybe owners should HAVE to stay and see the procedure first hand then maybe just maybe if they really love their pet more than their precious furniture they will see what horrifying it really is. Thank you for your very important input.

  • kat

    I am against tail docking, ear cropping, debarking and declawing. They are all in the same category…CRUEL and BARBARIC!!!
    There are ways to have cats and furniture…it is called a scratching post. As for kids, they are curious, loud and very active which can be very scarey to cats. Teach kids respect for the animal and no problems!

    • hrd2hndlecla324

      Oh my goodness debarking seriously who the hell would do that? What the hell is wrong with some people?

    • CatMom

      Nobody should have to observe the procedure to realize how horrible it is. All I have to know is that they AMPUTATE part of the toes, including bone. Who would NOT think that is barbaric? Just those who love their material possessions more than their pets.

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