This Op-Ed by Becky Robinson was published in the Asbury Park Press on March 5, 2020.
Imagine having the tips of all your fingers amputated all the way up to the first knuckles. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Now imagine it happening to a beloved pet. That’s what cat declawing is.
Declawing unfortunately became common with veterinarians in the United States after its invention in the 1950s, even though the surgery is elective and non-therapeutic. There are no medical benefits for a cat.
However, the tide is turning, and New Jersey now has a chance to become a leader. More Americans are standing against cat declawing — including several state lawmakers in New Jersey. Sen. Troy Singleton and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, both D-Burlington, and several cosponsors understand the long-term harm caused by declawing, and have proposed critical legislation that would outlaw it statewide (A1087, S920).
Formally called onychectomy, declawing is the amputation of the last joint of a cat’s toes by a veterinarian. In addition to immediate pain and discomfort, declawing can cause permanent mental and physical damage that leads to major problems for cats.
Many declawed cats avoid the litter box because the litter hurts their painful paws. They are more likely to bite and exhibit increased aggression because they have lost their natural means of self-defense. Declawing also leads to chronic pain, arthritis, back problems and balance problems in cats. You would have a hard time standing, too, if you lost the ends of all your toes.
Some claim that declawing is necessary to keep cats in homes. Yet a recent study found that the behavioral issues and medical costs, which are direct consequences of declawing, are the primary reasons people relinquish their cats to animal shelters. Furthermore, in the U.S. cities where declawing is banned, the relinquishment of cats to shelters has actually decreased. In short, declawing leads to more cats being killed in shelters, not less.
Claws, an extremely important part of cats’ anatomy, are essential to expressing natural behaviors, which include scratching. To protect furniture, cats can easily be trained to use cat scratching posts or appropriate scratching surfaces instead, or deterrent sprays and nail caps can be utilized.
Declawing will also not protect the health of people who share their homes with cats. Top human health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Public Health Service, do not advise declawing cats to benefit human health, even for people who are severely immuno-compromised.
Considering all these factors, it’s no mystery why declawing is falling out of favor among leading veterinary groups. Most animal shelters and adoption organizations now have a “don’t declaw” agreement in their adoption applications for cats. More than half of U.S. veterinary schools no longer include onychectomy in their core curriculum. Banfield, VCA and BluePearl pet hospitals, each of which have hospitals in New Jersey, and thousands of veterinarians all over the U.S. and Canada have all taken positions against declawing. So has the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).
New York became the first state to outlaw cat declawing last year. Declawing is also banned in 10 major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and St. Louis. Seven other states are also currently considering declaw bans. Now New Jersey has the chance to be the second state in the nation to ban declawing.
This state has an admirable history of implementing policies for the humane treatment of cats. Now, it’s time to take the next big step. I urge state lawmakers to vote to end cat declawing in the state, and for Gov. Murphy to sign the measure into law.
Becky Robinson is president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, a worldwide organization that works to protect the lives of cats.