San Francisco Bans Declawing of Cats

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Update Nov. 4, 2009: Yesterday, San Francisco became the first major city to ban declawing of cats!

By a vote of 9-2, the city’s Board of Supervisors made it a crime for any person, a veterinarian or otherwise, to declaw or cause a cat to be declawed.

Only Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier voted no.

Other California cities such as Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Palm Springs are considering bans on declawing.

For more on this ordinance and declawing, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below.   

Original report: San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has introduced a proposed ordinance that would ban declawing in the city except when necessary for a therapeutic purpose. 

The proposed ordinance makes clear that "[t]herapeutic purpose" means necessary to address the medical condition of the animal, such as an existing or recurring illness, infection, disease, injury or abnormal condition in the claw that compromises the animal’s health.  "Therapeutic purpose" does not include cosmetic or aesthetic reasons or reasons of convenience in keeping or handling the animal."

Violators could face a $1,000 fine and 6 months in jail.    

A 2003 resolution passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors urged cat owners and veterinarians not to declaw and consider humane alternative instead. It was thought then that education would stop people from declawing cats. 

But it hasn’t been enough to stop declawing.

Opponents of a ban on declawing say more people will surrender their cats. But declawing is unquestionably cruel. And, people are likely to surrender the cat because of the behaviors that declawing can cause.  A 2003 San Francisco SPCA survey found that because of these behavior problems caused by declawing, SPCA euthanizes declawed cats rather than put them up for adoption at nearly two times the rate as cats that have not been declawed.

Declawing is banned in West Hollywood, an ordinance that was upheld by an appeals court in a challenge by the California Veterinary Medical Association, Cal. Veterinary Medical Asso. v. City of West Hollywood, 152 Cal. App. 4th 536 (2007). 

This cruel procedure is also illegal in 25 nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Norway and Germany. 

catsThe proposed ordinance is very direct in stating:

 "[O]nychectomy (declawing) is not a simple, single surgery, but ten separate, painful amputations.  Declawing involves more than removing just the claws.  Rather, the last bone of each toe is amputated, including the claw, bone, joint capsule, nerves, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons – all critical for normal paw functioning.  In human terms, the procedure is analogous to cutting off each finger at the last joint.  Tendonectomy involves surgically removing a portion of the flexor tendon in each of a cat’s toes, thus preventing the cat from being able to extend the claws. 

"A cat’s claws are essential to its health and wellbeing, and scratching is a natural and important behavior for cats.  Cats use their claws for balance, walking, climbing, exercising, stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders and paws, and marking their territory.  The claws are essential to keeping the cats body in proper alignment.  Further, cats rely on their claws as a primary means of defense.  Declawed animals that are allowed outdoors are at increased risk of injury or death.  Animals subjected to tendonectomy are also robbed of an integral means of defense. 

"Removing the claws, or surgically preventing the cat from extending them, may make a cat feel defenseless, which can lead to stress, aggression, or withdrawal.  Cats undergoing these procedures often also suffer chronic pain.  Cats that are declawed may display behavioral, psychological and personality changes, including litter box avoidance and biting.  Many cats that are surrendered to shelters are surrendered because of behavioral problems that developed after the cats were declawed or underwent a tendonectomy procedure.  The goal of reducing cat populations in a shelter environment is furthered by prohibiting declawing and tendonectomy procedures.

"Declawing can result in serious complications, including excruciating pain for the animal, lameness, arthritis, damage to the radial nerve, infection, abscess, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claws, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken.  The rate of complication for declawing procedures is relatively high compared with other so-called ‘routine’ procedures; one study showed 50% of declawed cats developed short-term complications and 20% developed long-term complications.  Often, cat owners are insufficiently informed or aware of the nature of the procedure and the serious complications and changes that may result. 

"Cats that undergo a tendonectomy procedure experience similar complications as those undergoing declawing, including bleeding, lameness, and infection.  Further, claws continue to grow following tendonectomy; because the cat can no longer extend the claws to scratch, the cat will not wear down the claws as before.  Without proper trimming and maintenance, the nails can curl under into the paw and cause great pain for the animal.  In addition, the nails on cats that have undergone a tendonectomy can get atypically brittle as the cat ages.  Brittle nails are prone to splitting and shattering when trimmed, which is quite painful for the cat.

"Declawing and tendonectomy are elective procedures that cat owners request and veterinarians advocate primarily to prevent damage to property or minor personal injury.  Reasonable and humane alternatives exist, including nail trimming, scratching implements such as carpeted posts and boxes, temporary soft nail caps, behavioral training for the cat, deterrent sprays, and such simple measures as covering furniture or limiting an animal’s access to certain areas of the home."

"[D]eclawing and tendonectomy are inhumane procedures that cause pain, anguish and permanent disability to a cat, and frequently result in behavioral and personality changes in cats subjected to those procedures.  The primary benefit of the procedures – the convenience of pet owners – is outweighed by the cruelty of the procedures.  It is inappropriate to remove parts of an animal’s anatomy, thereby causing the animal pain and suffering, and restricting and altering its natural behaviors, simply to fit the owner’s lifestyle, aesthetics or convenience, without benefit to the animal."