The Denver City Council on Monday unanimously passed a bill that bans the cruel practice of declawing cats in the city unless it’s deemed medically necessary. The ordinance is effective immediately, making Colorado the only state besides California to have at least one city banning declawing.
Alley Cat Allies sent letters of support to council members to ban declawing in Denver. We are deeply thankful to the City Council, and to the citizens who voiced their support of the ban to representatives.
The bill, CB17-0709, was modeled after similar ones put forth in states like New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Rhode Island in recent years. The measures have stalled in those states, but The Paw Project, the nonprofit declawing awareness organization championing these bills, hopes Denver’s ban will encourage other communities to adopt similar bans.
“It does absolutely no good whatsoever, period, no question, for a cat to be declawed,” says Jennifer Conrad, DVM, a veterinarian and the founder and president of The Paw Project. “Thankfully, we have a strong councilmember in Denver, Kendra Black, who understands the issue.”
Councilwoman Black was first introduced to the brutality of declawing by The Paw Project’s Colorado Eastern Slope director. After watching The Paw Project’s documentary, and with some encouragement from cat behavior expert Jackson Galaxy, she decided she wanted to put a law on the books to end the practice in her city.
“Once Councilwoman Black understood how inhumane declawing was from a veterinary standpoint, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted the city of Denver to be allowing,” says Liz Zukowski, council aide to Councilwoman Black.
Declawing isn’t just a nail trim. In fact, the more accurate term for the procedure would be “de-knuckling,” as removing the claw involves amputating the last bone on each of a cat’s toes. That is the equivalent of cutting off a person’s finger to the first knuckle.
Declaw surgery is one of the most painful procedures in veterinary medicine, and can have long-term, harmful effects on cats’ well-being. Without their claws, cats can have trouble walking and balancing. The discomfort in their feet often causes them to avoid using the litter box and, because they feel unsafe without their natural protection, declawed cats are more likely to bite. These behavior issues are some of the most common reasons owners abandon their cats in shelters—where 70 percent of cats are killed nationwide.
Since declawing first took hold in America in 1952, it has been mainly used to stop a cat from scratching furniture and other belongings. However, humane alternatives, such as providing scratching posts and spraying catnip on them, may do the trick. Trimming cats’ claws regularly is also an option, as are nail caps, or spraying cats’ target scratching area with a homemade or commercial deterrent.
Nearly 20 countries around the world have laws that make declawing illegal, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Israel—where declawing a cat could mean a $20,000 fine and a year in prison. Eight cities in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, also have these laws in place. All understand that declawing is a cruel, painful, and pointless surgery.
Unfortunately, declawing bans have been slow to gain traction in the rest of the United States. Even in California, most of the bans only passed because the state forced cities’ hands. In 2009, the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposed a declawing ban adopted in West Hollywood in 2003. They convinced the state of California to pass a law to forbid cities from creating their own similar bans. Since the law was set to go into effect on January 1, 2010, multiple cities defied the measure and rushed to pass bans while they still could.
So why, if declawing has been illegal for decades in most European nations, is the United States apparently hesitant to do the same? Experts cite a lack of understanding about the procedure, which has long been routine in American veterinary medicine. Even today, 25 percent of the nation’s cats are declawed, and 75 percent of veterinarians still perform the surgery. There are also veterinarians and veterinary associations that actively oppose legal bans on declawing.
One of the most common excuses is that banning declawing will cause more cats to lose their homes due to scratching. But according to Brenda Barnette, general manager of animal services in Los Angeles, which enacted its declawing ban in 2009, it is rare for cats to be relinquished for scratching furniture. Meanwhile, post-declawing behavioral issues brought thousands of cats to shelters.
“We almost never had people bring cats to the shelter for scratching. But we had so many declawed cats brought in because they had terrible litterbox habits and were biting,” says Barnette. “Not only is the [declaw] surgery itself brutal, it ultimately leaves cats crippled and with behavior problems for life. The declawing ban has done nothing but make Los Angeles safer for cats.”
Dr. Conrad says every single municipal shelter in a California city that enacted a declawing ban had a decrease in impounded cats. Barnette reinforced this fact in a recent letter of support for Denver’s proposed declawing bill. “There were 26,942 owner-surrendered cats that came into the Los Angeles shelter system in the five years before the Los Angeles declaw ban went into effect, compared to 15,276 owner-surrendered cats in the five years afterward, a reduction of 43.3 percent,” the letter states.
Opposition also claims that clawed cats can cause harm to human health, especially for those with diseases like hemophilia, where even a small cut can be dangerous. The concern is unfounded.
“The CDC, the U.S. Public Health Services, the American Hemophiliac Association, and many other organizations all say that declawing cats isn’t advised or necessary for people living with an immunocompromising illness,” says Dr. Conrad. “In fact, declawing cats puts these people more at risk, since it increases the likelihood that a cat will bite.
“As a veterinarian, I went to vet school to protect animals,” Dr. Conrad adds. “All veterinarians should think the same.”
That mindset is growing in popularity as an increasing number of citizens become aware of the truth about declawing. Americans overwhelmingly love their cats, and when they realize how much declawing harms them, they are willing to stand against it. It’s slow going, but change is happening.
More veterinarians are refusing to declaw cats. Every week, The Paw Project gets a call from a veterinarian who wants to be added to the organization’s list of veterinarians who won’t declaw. During an October 25 hearing in Denver about the declawing bill, Zukowski and Councilwoman Black were moved by the passionate testimony of a veterinary technician who refuses to work at a practice that declaws, even if it causes her to lose money.
“No piece of furniture is worth taking away an animal’s ability to ambulate normally, just as you would not cut off a child’s fingers for drawing on the wall,” the veterinary technician, Kirsten Butler, said at the hearing, as reported by The Denverite.
On a larger scale, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), the well-regarded organization representing nearly 4,000 U.S. veterinarians, “strongly opposes declawing as an elective procedure.” The Humane Society of the United States also stands firmly against declawing.
Today, we know the procedure is cruel, largely unnecessary, and can even cause long-term harm. Alley Cat Allies is working to rally communities and make declawing a relic of the past.
That’s why we support and encourage citizens to speak out for declawing bans in cities like Denver. The voices of constituents are a powerful tool for change. Even if a ban is not up for discussion in your community, you can still take action by talking with your friends, neighbors, and others about declawing. Call your legislators and tell them that this issue matters to you. Explain the harmful effects of declawing, and ask them to follow the example of developed countries around the world.
Together, we can change the nation’s mindset and end declawing once and for all.