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Commission calls on Austin to ban cat declawing

Friday, September 14, 2018 by Jack Craver

The city Animal Advisory Commission has unanimously recommended that the city ban cat declawing.

The commission unanimously approved the resolution on Monday after hearing an hour of testimony from veterinarians and animal rights activists, most of whom described declawing as a painful procedure that serves no medical purpose.

Roy Smith, who has been a practicing veterinarian in Central Texas for 57 years, told the commission that he used to declaw cats but that “years of observation” of the negative effects on the animals “made me say, ‘Stop doing this.’”

Another veterinarian, Nicole Martel-Moran, also said she had declawed cats in the past but that she had become convinced by research on the matter that the procedure not only inflicts pain on the cat, but makes them significantly more likely to bite people. Cat bites, she noted, are a far graver threat to people than cat scratches. Cat bites that break the skin often lead to serious infections.

Above all else, cats that are declawed often deal with serious foot pain as a result, she said.

“I should not have to spend time treating pain in my patients that is 100 percent preventable,” she said.

Onychectomy, known as declawing, involves amputating the ends of a cat’s toes to remove the claws. The procedure has traditionally been sought by owners of domestic cats in order to protect furniture or themselves from being scratched, but in recent years it has come under increasing criticism as unethical and unnecessary.

Animal rights groups such as the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals oppose the procedure, while the American Veterinary Medical Association encourages vets to educate their clients on alternatives to declawing and states that the operation should be considered “only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s),” according to its website.

Gina Vance, president of the Capital Area Veterinary Medical Association, said that the organization opposed the proposed measure because it would infringe on the “doctor-client-patient relationship.”

Vance said that while she discouraged the practice among her clients, there were instances when it might be the only way to keep a person and their cat together, such as somebody who is particularly vulnerable to scratches. She highlighted the case of “an elderly client who is now unable to keep their beloved pet because they are having scratching issues.”

Commissioner Lauren Cannon, herself a veterinarian, challenged the notion that barring the procedure would restrict the foundation of the doctor-client relationship.

“The restriction is on what you could physically perform in the city of Austin, not what you could talk to them about or educate them on,” said Cannon.

Commissioner Ryan Clinton asked each veterinarian who spoke whether they would describe declawing as a “treatment or therapy” and whether it treated any “animal disease, animal deformity, animal defect, animal injury or other physical condition of the animal.”

All of the vets replied that it does not treat any physical condition in the cat. Vance said that it could be described as an intervention aimed at ending a behavior that may jeopardize the “patient and the client staying together.”

While Clinton’s cross-examination seemed designed to discredit any defense of declawing, he later told his colleagues that he would like the measure to reflect the possibility of special cases where the procedure could be warranted.

Chair David Lundstedt said that it was very likely that the final version of the ordinance that City Council votes on could include such language.

The proposed ordinance the commission recommended, however, bars declawing except in instances of illness or infection in the claw that “compromises the cat’s health.”

The recommended ordinance also states that any person who performs or procures the procedure would be guilty of a civil violation and subject to a fine, although the fine amount is not specified.

It is now up to Council to take action on the measure.

Photo by Anasiz (talk · contribs) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

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