West Hollywood, San Francisco, Beverly Hills and now Los Angeles have all voted to support bans on cat declawing except in circumstances where it is medically necessary for the cat's health. Berkeley votes on this issue next Tuesday. This flurry of bans is a direct response to new state law which comes into effect on Jan 1st 2010 which would bar cities from doing just this. This law, SB 762, which was sold to legislators as protecting 'healing arts' practitioners from whimsical city legislators banning certain 'medical' procedures was in fact sponsored by one lobbying business association, the CVMA - the California Veterinary Medical Association. Not by doctors or dentists - although advocacy groups for those practitioners did sign on to the bill - but by the lobbying group concerned with protecting the profit centre of the private veterinary industry.
You'd think this would be a fairly straightforward matter. You can't find a single person who thinks declawing is a good thing to do, vets talk in terms of personal distaste, staff at vet hospitals have taken me aside to ask why, as a Humane Commissioner, I can do nothing about preventing this practice, even the representative of the CVMA who spoke to our Commission spent the better part of his talk saying how awful a procedure it can be, and yet - the battle lines are drawn between allies in animal welfare, between vets who belong to the same business association, and between cat lovers.
Scare tactics have characterized the opposition - that this ban means that cities will soon be banning abortions, that HIV compromised individuals will be killing their cats in droves, that children with cancer will have their beloved pet ripped from their arms, that shelters will be 'flooded' with owner abandoned cats because they can't declaw them. Shame on the fear mongers. Really. Shame on them. Yesterday I heard that someone was calling Council members describing a terrible scenario of people being arrested and hauled off to jail if we pass this ban.
Is it really analgous to the anti abortion movement? Are the photographs of botched surgeries with gruesome deformed cat paws dripping blood and swollen arms from failed laser surgery the same as the oversize posters of crying fetuses in a metal sink in an abortionists lair? I don't think so. I think that an industry that fails to police itself adequately needs public oversight and that when the vet industry can do no better than to scream that banning this barbaric surgery will mean shelters overloaded with abandoned cats and therefore it will be my fault when thousands die, the conclusion I reach is that they have run out of any meaningful defense.
The answer to most animal related problems lies in education and information yet we are still stuck, in even the most progressive cities, in a state of punitive control after the fact. Animal shelters budgets are huge yet a tiny percentage is assigned to publications, outreach advocates, or low cost and available vaccines, spay/neuter and affordable well-pet care for low income residents. The need to adopt out as many animals as possible to keep euthanasia numbers low means that hardly any counseling is done with a prospective adopter. Education about cat declawing is no exception. Because of it's general purpose name, most people think it means removing the claws. Sounds ok.
It isn't. It involves removing the last bones of the toes of a cat. It is in fact de-toeing. And yes, many people say they are happier with their cat once the cat no longer has intact toes. I live with cats - and I don't play rough with them, I never encouraged them to chase my fingers under the bedcovers, I sprayed them with a water bottle when they scratched at the sofa (even though every single thing failed with the fat beached whale Tutte and she has damaged stuff in my house, declawing was never ever an option) and I don't have cat scratches up and down my arms. Don't like claws? Don't get a cat.
And if you do get a cat - or two - educate them, train them, provide scratching posts, tell your kids not to play games with them where the cat lays on its back and scratches the kids wrists to pieces - with their back legs it should be noted.
One day soon, we won't reconfigure domestic animals to suit our furniture, to conform to a breed standard, or to fit our image of what a designer doggie should look like. And we'll look back and wonder what took us so long to outlaw this obscenity.