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Legislation Would Make it Illegal to Declaw Cats

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A House panel voted Wednesday to make the routine declawing of cats in Arizona illegal after the chairman of the committee called it "gruesome and unnecessary.''
The 10-3 approval of HB 2224 came after the testimony of several veterinarians who told members of the Government and Elections Committee that the practice, once considered routine, is unnecessary.
More to the point, they provided in some graphic detail that this is more than removing a nail. Instead, they noted, it actually involves amputating part of each of the fingers on a cat's paws.
And the majority of lawmakers on the panel said they were unconvinced by claims that sometimes it is in the interest of the cat -- and an owner's ability to keep that cat -- to allow the procedure.
The legislation, crafted by Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, is being advanced by some animal rights groups.
Dr. Steve Hansen, president of the Arizona Humane Society and a veterinarian, said when he first graduated from medical school he declawed cats when requested by owners. But he told lawmakers that was before he got to see the effect it had on the animals.
Hansen said the reason the declawing process involves amputation of the last third of the finger at the joint is that he alternative of removing the claw itself is largely ineffective.
"It's likely to regrow'' in many circumstances "and cause the cat great discomfort walking and great pain.''
But Phoenix resident Colleen Bell provided a different perspective.
She told committee members about Salem, who belonged to her mother, Jan Dougherty. Bell said the cat would jump on her mothers lap and scratch her, "not out of meanness but just because she wouldn't retract her claws quickly enough for the landing.''
Bell said it was a doctor treating her mom for a cut who suggested having the cat declawed to avoid future injuries.
"Taking away the declaw option would have been an emotional nightmare for numerous families as well as my own,'' she said. The alternative, Bell said, would be having to surrender the animal.
"I saw the comfort Salem gave her in the last days of her life,'' Bell said of her mother. "And it was priceless.
Hansen, however, said that some cats, reacting to the lack of claws to defend themselves, will instead turn to biting.
"And cat bites are much more serious than cat scratches,'' he said. Anyway, Hansen said, there are othe options, like trimming the cat's nails.
"It's actually very easy to do,'' he said. "And by blunting the nails they cannot do nearly as much destructive activity.''
The measure also got support from Dr. Jennifer Conrad, also a veterinarian and founder of The Paws Project which she describes as the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to ending declawing.
"Cats no longer have to suffer the 10 to 18 or more amputations that are totally unnecessary to manage a cat,'' she said. And she said a majority of people support a ban.
"I would argue that's probably not true,'' said Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.
"Every cat owner that I've ever known has gotten their cats declawed because they don't want to have to deal with scratches and things like that,'' he said. "They don't want to deal with scratches on furniture, they don't want to deal with scratches on themselves.''
Wayne Anderson, who said he is a retired veterinarian, complained that the measure lacks needed exceptions. The only one in the bill is for ``therapeutic purposes'' like if there is a specific medical need.
He also questioned the claim that cats need claws for self defense.
"I don't know any house cat that needs to defend himself, except for other pets or dogs,'' Anderson said.
He also said the procedure of amputating the end of the digit is not as traumatic as others have said, calling the language about cutting the toes off "very inflammatory.''
"They walk on the pads of their feet,'' Anderson said. "They don't walk on their claws.''
And he said that the absolute ban fails to acknowledged that some owners won't be able to handle their clawed cats to get them to the vet as needed for health care.
The measure also drew opposition from Susie Stevens who lobbies for the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association.
She said cat owners are informed of the risks and benefits of the procedure before agreeing to do it. And that, Stevens said, goes to the point that this is about the desires of the owner.
"The client's decision is really what this needs to be about,'' she said.
Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, said that point is important.
"Cats are not citizens,'' he said. "They're actually the property and responsibility of their owners.''
But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that doesn't preclude the need for the legislation.
"Gruesome and unnecessary,'' he said of the procedure. "That really just sums it all up.''
He also noted the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control does not advise declawing as a method of preventing cat scratch disease, which is a viral infection.
Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, said she shares the sentiment.
"It's cruel and inhumane,'' she said. Martinez said that owners concerned about scratching should pursue other options "even if it is a little more expensive, even if it is a little more difficult with trainers and people who are able to help with the grooming.''
The legislation now requires a vote of the full House.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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