–by Grace Hwang
Joel Rose, A Declaw Law? Veterinarians Divided Over N.J. Cat Claw Bill, NPR (Feb. 16, 2017, 4:31 PM), http://www.npr.org/2017/02/16/515036397/a-declaw-law-veterinarians-divided-over-n-j-cat-claw-bill.
To declaw cats or not? New Jersey could be first with ban, Fox News (Feb. 9, 2017), http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/02/09/to-declaw-cats-or-not-new-jersey-could-be-first-with-ban.html.
Susan K. Livio, Paws off N.J. cat claws: Assembly panel approves declaw ban, NJ.com (Nov. 15, 2016, 7:10 AM), http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/11/paws_off_cats_claws_assembly_panel_approves_declaw.html.
New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime to declaw cats. If passed, New Jersey will be the first state to implement such a ban.
The “Cat Claw Bill” (Bill No. 3899) is sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington). The bill prohibits veterinarians from performing onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy (preventing a cat from flexing or extending its claws) on cats or other animals unless the procedure is medically necessary.
Assemblyman Singleton argues, “Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity.” But not everyone agrees that such practices are harmful to cats in the long run.
Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex) voted against the bill based on his own experiences with his family cat. He commented that his cat inflicted $600 worth of damage to his home. For him, “it was either getting declawed or going back to the shelter,” where it would likely be euthanized.
Veterinarians are also sharply divided on the issue. Gordon Stull, a veterinarian for over 40 years, explained that he felt uncomfortable performing declawing procedures because “[i]t just seemed like this is not a procedure I should be doing. Because it’s not helping the animal. It’s a convenient surgery for the client. And it’s a mutilation.”
But other veterinarian’s disagree. Jose Pla, a veterinarian at several animal hospitals in northern New Jersey, says “I think that it is a surgery that has its place to help certain cats be able to enjoy a loving relationship with their owners.” He agrees that the surgery is an amputation but because of modern technology, the cats are able to recover quickly without much pain. Others warn that more cats may be abandoned and then euthanized as a result of the ban.
So is declawing really worth banning?
Declawing involves either an onychectomy or a flexor tendonectomy. “An onychectomy involves amputating the last bone of each toe. A flexor tendonectomy involves severing the tendon that controls the claw in each toe, so that the cat keeps its claws but cannot flex or extend them.” In addition to banning these practices, anyone in violation would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense that can mean a fine up to $1,000, a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both. Those in violation may also be subject to a civil penalty of an amount between $500 and $2,000.
Despite the immediate benefits this may have on cats, the American Veterinary Medical Association, an association that represents more than 89,000 veterinarians, does not support this bill. They do not agree that onychectomies are barbaric. Although it is done in most cases where it is not medically necessary and has medical complications that go along with it, the association believes that it is still a viable option when other attempts to modify behavior have failed. Although the association discourages declawing, they do not believe that lawmakers should tell doctors what to do.
Included in the debate are avid cat lovers and owners. Laura Goode, a volunteer at Only Hope Cat Rescue who has cared for countless numbers of cats explains that cats who are declawed often exhibit aggressive behavior and have difficulty using the litter box.
The bill presents risks on both sides of the debate. Passing the bill would roll back on the autonomy given to veterinarians and pet owners. It would also risk more cats being relinquished because of inconvenience and property damage. But not passing this bill may mean the continual amputation of cats for the sake of human convenience.
Although this measure was cleared by the state assembly, it will still have to “claw” its way through the state senate before it lands on the Governor’s desk.