Picture a criminal who has committed many crimes that require the use of the hands. Then picture him being sentenced to having his fingers removed in order to prevent future incidents. One could call such a sentence cruel even when in support of punishment to address the criminal’s specific actions, and even when in full support of prevention of such actions by anyone in the future. But set aside all moral and social debate, and amputation of fingers still defines what is happening to cats when they are de-clawed.
Claws, essentially, are a cat’s fingers. The claws are part of the third phalange of the cat’s paw. Removal of the claws, a procedure known as Onychectomy means amputating the entire joint. A cat can walk on de-clawed paws and might be able to loosely hold an object between them, but can’t grip or manipulate the objects and can’t climb. The de-clawed cat is essentially the same as for a person who lacks fingers. One can hold an object between the palms, but without fingers, can’t manipulate the object or engage in any actions that require the finer grips or sense focus the fingers provide.
De-clawing of cats is a common practice by veterinarians in the US. Various sources, including a study by the University of California at Davis, report that about 25% of domestic cats end up being de-clawed. The practice is outlawed in many countries, including Brazil, Australia, Israel and a number of European countries including Austria and Germany. It was outlawed in the United Kingdom in 2006 as part of that country’s Animal Welfare Act. In some cases in countries where the operation is illegal, can be performed if it is specifically for the medical benefit of the cat. An increasing number of US animal advocates are speaking up to say the best medical benefit for cats is to leave their claws in place.
“Medical drawbacks to declawing include pain, infection, tissue necrosis (tissue death), lameness, and back pain. Removing claws changes the way a cat's foot meets the ground and can cause pain similar to wearing an uncomfortable pair of shoes. There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage, and bone spurs”, says a statement published by the US Humane Society.
The Humane Society adds that cat claws can be trimmed to minimize the animals’ ability to tear household items and scratch other animals, and that there is also the option of putting sheaths on the claws that serve that same purpose as trimming.
In Colorado, a effort to ban de-clawing is mobilizing with the help the Santa Monica (CA)-based Paw Project foundation and local retired veterinarians including James Gaynor of Colorado Springs, Aubrey Lavizzo, and Jean Hofve. The three have also garnered the support of renowned vet Jennifer Conrad, founder of Paw Project and producer of the documentary movie by the same name. Lavizzo directs Paw Project’s Colorado division. Hofve is author of the Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care.
Conrad has performed many surgeries on cats to restore tendons and correct painful damage to cats’ limbs caused by declawing. Her patients over the years include lions, tigers and other exotic who had previously worked in stage performances and circuses before being dismissed to animal sanctuaries due to old age or even abandoned, as well as many house cats. Based in California, Conrad’s veterinary practice has taken her all over the world, as has her activism. Conrad will be present at a special showing of the Paw Project film at Denver’s SEI Film Center at 7 p.m. on September 25. Tickets can be purchased through the Denver Film Society.