If Assembly Bill 395 becomes law in California, veterinarians there would be banned from performing onychectomies and flexor tendonectomies on cats—surgeries the bill's sponsor calls cruel, inhumane, and unnecessary.
The California VMA strongly opposes the blanket prohibition on declawing, however, saying the procedures are a private matter between pet owners and veterinarians. And if A.B. 395 were to pass, the veterinary association warns that many cats would be abandoned or euthanatized by owners otherwise unable to control their pets' destructive behavior.
This isn't the first time a ban on declawing has been floated in California. After formally condemning the procedures in January, the city council of West Hollywood directed its lawyer to explore the legality of prohibiting veterinarians from performing onychectomies and tendonectomies on cats (see JAVMA, March 1, 2003, page 560).
Assemblyman Paul Koretz, whose district includes West Hollywood, where pet owners are referred to as guardians, introduced A.B. 395 on Feb. 14. "Most Californians who have declawed their cat have no idea what they put their pet through," Koretz said. "It is a cruel and inhumane procedure that is absolutely unnecessary."
Koretz's bill would amend the state's veterinary medical practice act to prohibit the procedures from being performed on domestic cats, as well as large and exotic cat species, such as lions, tigers, and cougars. Koretz noted that many veterinarians and animal experts view animal declawing as an act of cruelty done for the benefit of the owner, not the animal.
"Declawing is a painful and risky surgery performed primarily to protect sofas and drapes," said Dr. Jennifer Conrad, founder of the California-based The Paw Project, an organization dedicated to abolishing declaw surgeries.
The Paw Project supported the West Hollywood City Council's resolution against declawing and is working closely with Koretz to get his legislation passed. Declawing, according to the organization, may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications.
But Dr. Richard Schumacher, executive director of the California VMA, rejects the arguments against declawing. "We will never accept that a veterinarian doing a procedure is animal abuse," he said.
Declawing is a humane surgical procedure performed with anesthesia and pain medication, Dr. Schumacher contended. Moreover, if it were outlawed, there would be an unintended rise in unwanted cats in California.
"If the decision is made by the owner that they can't keep that cat unless it's declawed," Dr. Schumacher said, "then that's not in the best interest of the animal or owner to put that cat to sleep or (release) it outdoors or turn it over to the pound."
The California VMA is lobbying the state's lawmakers against the bill and also asking practitioners to write their representatives to oppose it. In addition, the association is alerting pet owners that a ban on declawing would limit their rights.
The Cat Fanciers' Association and The Animal Council aligned themselves against the proposed declawing restriction in West Hollywood. The CFA has stated that, while it disapproves of declawing and tendonectomies, pet owners should be allowed to make that decision after consulting with their veterinarians.
The AVMA supports declawing of domestic cats when the cat can't 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.
Koretz's bill has been referred to the Assembly's Business and Professions and Agriculture committees for consideration.