In a 2009 blog for The Denver Post, I described it as a "battle royale." Now, four years later, the drive to ban cat declawing has moved from the halls of government in California to Colorado.
It's beginning to make some noise in the Centennial state, too.
Opponents of cat declawing say it is a cruel, painful practice that may result in permanent lameness, arthritis and other long-term complications.
Veterinarians have been performing the surgery for years. Why? It is generally done at the request of owners to stop destructive cats from scratching furniture or their owners themselves. Scratching is a leading cause of felines being relinquished to animal shelters.
Veterinary organizations are lukewarm to the procedure, but have opposed bans because declawing, despite its shortcomings, it a better option than dumping or euthanizing the animal.
Declawing is outlawed in Israel, Brazil, Germany and many European countries, as well as some cities in California.
In that state, a Santa Monica-based organization called The Paw Project went from city to city trying to get city councils to oulaw the practice. They were opposed by the California Veterinary Medical Association, which wanted to keep declawing as an option. The veterinarians also argued that modern procedures such as laser surgery made the procedure less troublesome.
The association asked the California state legislature to pass a law making it illegal for cities to outlaw the procedure. The law, however, did not go into effect until a year later. So various California cities passed municipal ordinances against declawing.
The object of all the legal moves and policy passion was the surgical procedure known technically as onychectomy. A veterinarian, using a scalpel, clippers or a laser, cuts off the last bone on each toe on a cat’s feet.
Critics think the surgery goes too far.
The Paw Project puts it this way: “While some felines will have immediate complications from the procedure, it may be many months or years before the damaging effects of declawing become obvious. Among the complications may be an aversion to using a litterbox, because the litter material may be painful to the declawed cat."
Veterinarians replied that declawing, whatever its drawbacks, may be better than the alternatives.
“If it comes down to a cat being euthanized, losing its home or losing its claws,” California Veterinary Medical Association president Mark Nunez told the L.A. Times in 2009, “being euthanized or losing its home is a worse outcome.”
That view was echoed by a Denver veterinarian, Dr. Heather Reeder, then with the Cat Care Society in Lakewood.
“I don’t do declaws by choice and I work with an organization that does not do declaws,” Reeder said. “But I would still stand up for the right to do it.
“You want to be able to evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis."
The American Veterinary Medical Association adopted this policy in 2003: "Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner(s)."
The Paw Project has spun off a Colorado branch, Paw Project Colorado, which seeks state legislation to ban declawing. The local organization is headed by Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo, a reired Denver veterinarian. In 2011 he was the Colorado Veterinarian of the Year.
On Tuesday, Lavizzo appeared on 9News-KUSA. He brought in a scratching post and showed how to lure your cat to the post and away from furniture - such as sprinkling catnip on it. Lavizzo said 50 percent of cats relinquished to shelters are there because of behavior problems.
Lavizzo said he quit declawing several years ago because it causes so much pain for the cats. Also, it was traumatic for his staff trying to help cats recovering from the procedure, too.
As part of its strategy in Colorado, Paw Project Colorado has shown a documentary about declawing two times in Denver.
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