March 01, 2003


 California city weighs ban on animal declawing

West Hollywood condemns the surgical procedure while investigating the legality of ban
Posted Feb. 15, 2003

West Hollywood, Calif., is exploring the legality of banning the surgical procedure of animal declawing. The measure is intended to bar city veterinarians from performing onychectomies on domestic cats—what many argue is a lifesaving measure.

During its Jan. 21 meeting, the city council directed the city attorney to research the feasibility of implementing such a ban, while also passing a resolution " ... condemning the practice of animal declawing within city boundaries and urging the veterinary community to encourage animal guardians to use other available techniques intended to avoid declawing."

Should the prohibition on animal declawing succeed, West Hollywood would become the first in the nation to ban the procedure. The California city is known for its politically progressive tendencies and is one of several cities that have substituted 'pet guardian' for 'pet owner' (see story, page 561).

Soon after the West Hollywood City Council approved serious consideration of the ban, In Defense of Animals, a California-based animal rights group, asked the Los Angeles Animal Commission to consider outlawing animal declawing within city limits.

But West Hollywood's proposal is drawing criticism from the Cat Fanciers' Association, California VMA, and The Animal Council, a California-based group that seeks humane solutions to the challenges of animal rights activists.

According to Joan Miller, CFA legislative coordinator, the association disapproves of declawing cats, as well as tendonectomies. But Miller believes that the decision to have one of the procedures is a private matter and should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

"We're in an awkward position here because we don't approve of (the procedure), but at the same time, we feel that veterinary procedures should be decided between a pet owner and their veterinarian," she said.

Following the council's vote, Sharon Coleman, legislative legal analyst with the CFA, wrote Mayor Sal Guarriello and city council members on behalf of The Animal Council, explaining that declawing is a private matter between veterinarians and their clients. If adopted, the prohibition could interfere with the veterinarian's professional judgment and the client's right to privacy in obtaining services from state-licensed veterinarians.

Also in question is the legality of West Hollywood's proposed ban. In California, veterinary practice is governed by state law, which delegates regulatory authority to the Veterinary Medical Board under the authority of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Lawyers with the California VMA are also investigating whether the city has the authority to outlaw a state-sanctioned medical procedure, according to Dr. Richard Schumacher, executive director of the association. The California VMA has expressed its opposition to a possible ban in a letter to the West Hollywood city attorney.

Coleman affirms the city council's First Amendment right to condemn the procedure, but contends cat owners living in the city will circumvent the ban by getting the procedure at veterinary clinics outside West Hollywood. What's more, rather than being a humane act, banning onychectomy might inadvertently increase the number of unowned and unwanted cats.

"Veterinary practice is a complex field combining medicine with the needs of individual clients and animal patients," Coleman wrote. "These include measures to ameliorate behavioral extremes that can prevent the animal patient from remaining in its home, in effect, lifesaving measures."

Many cat owners have their pets declawed because cats instinctively use objects in their environment to sharpen their claws. Alternatives include training the cat to use scratching posts, gluing rubber caps over the claws, or performing a tendonectomy, which prevents the cat from extending its claws.

The AVMA supports declawing of domestic cats when the cat can't otherwise be trained not to use its claws destructively. For many people, owning a cat would not be an option if the cat could not be declawed. In addition, elderly and immunosuppressed cat owners often have their cats' nails removed to prevent injury and infection to themselves.