The Case for Outlawing Cat Declawing

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Late last month, Israel joined Brazil, Argentina and all of Europe in legally opposing the practice we commonly refer to as declawing. Since the country was a little late to the party, it decided to make up for lost time by imposing a heavy-handed punishment: If anyone is caught safeguarding their furniture over his cat's claws, that person gets jail time and a $20,000 fine.

Nice, right? I thought so.

In case it’s not yet apparent, I’m a big opponent of feline declawing for cosmetic purposes. The procedure, known as onychectomy, is more akin to a multiple amputation than the mere removal of nails. And it’s always painful.

The procedure is also fraught with a high complication rate: According to one study of 163 felines, 50 percent experienced problems immediately following surgery, and 20 percent suffered from complications after they were released from the hospital.

Even worse? The procedure is completely unnecessary. I’ve yet to come across a rug, sofa, ottoman or window treatment that deserves more consideration than a feline’s feet. Besides, the vast majority of cats can be trained to sharpen their claws on scratching tools instead of the expensive stuff.

What about people who are immunosuppressed and don’t want to risk getting scratched, you ask? If you’re nervous, and rightfully so, consider getting a fish instead.

As you can see, I tend not to mince words on the subject — which also tends to land me in hot water with some of my readers. Recently, one of my Miami Herald followers took issue with my elation over the new Israeli law and sent me the following response:

“Declawing cats should remain a choice. There are many cats who would never have homes unless they were declawed. And people would tend to throw them outside or abandon them if they started getting destructive with their claws. All my cats have always been declawed, and I’ve never seen a complication in over 20 years.

All those animal welfare activists who want to take away people’s rights and freedoms should remember Nazi Germany and how quickly they were all taken away. That’s why it shocks me that Israel of all countries would come up with such a ban. They obviously forgot the quote about not sticking up for the minority group until it was too late.”

There was some additional rambling, but that was the general gist of it. Her argument: Laws like the one in Israel are scientifically unfounded, politically motivated and abusive of the rights of an unfairly treated group of people.

This would be spot on if the science wasn’t actually screaming bloody murder against declawing, the veterinary leadership wasn’t condemning the practice and owning a cat was an inalienable right. Also, I don’t know about you, but I’d argue that the truly put upon are the ones whose claws are surrendered to the scalpel.

But is an outright ban the right approach? In the past, I’ve written against instituting aggressive bans on the procedure, citing a variety of family-related circumstances in which I might consider declawing a necessity. But the truth is that I’m now having a hard time justifying any reason for declawing.

After all, keeping cats is a choice. And if you must declaw, re-home or euthanize a feline because she’s trashing your furniture, then you’re not really a cat person, are you?

I know. Ouch!

Although I agree there’s no perfect way to legislate responsible pet ownership — or keep people from doing all kinds of cruel things to animals — banning certain practices can be a useful legal tool, especially when the veterinary leadership is behind the idea of a ban.

So what do you think? Is an Israeli-style ban the way to go in the United States?


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