The Cruelest Cut: How Cat Declawing Became the Next Battleground for Animal Rights

Critics say the common cat surgery is painful and can lead to other problems.

"If declawing helped the cat in any way, I would not be fighting like this," Conrad says. "Declawing does not keep a cat in its home. If someone is intolerant of a cat scratching a couch, they're really going to be intolerant of a cat not using the litter box."

Conrad has a letter from one veterinarian in Southern California who bragged that "he declaws every cat that comes in the door because it makes him between $75,000 and $80,000 a year," she says. "The bottom line is that veterinarians make a lot of money doing this, and they recommend it without disclosing what the surgery does to cats."

The Paw Project tracks Conrad's quest to persuade officials in nine California cities, from West Hollywood to San Francisco, to support a municipal ban on declawing. The film is scheduled for a special screening in Denver days before a New York premiere and national theatrical release later this month.

Katie Jarl says declawing is painful and can lead to other problems.
Courtesy of HSUS
Katie Jarl says declawing is painful and can lead to other problems.
Soft Paws offers a fashionable alternative to declawing.
Soft Paws offers a fashionable alternative to declawing.

In Colorado, vets and cat-rescue people hope to use the screening as the kickoff for an even more ambitious campaign, a push to pass legislation next year that would create a ban on declawing across Colorado — the first statewide ban anywhere in the country.

"We want to ban it because it is fundamentally cruel," says retired vet Jean Hofve, co-author of The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care. "It's a radical surgery to correct a behavior problem that's not hard to fix by other means. No other civilized country does it except Canada, and even Canada is getting close to banning it."

Perhaps because declawing has become a deeply divisive issue among practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association and many state vet organizations have tried to sound studiously neutral on the subject. The AVMA policy on declawing acknowledges that the surgery "is not a medically necessary procedure for the cat in most cases" and urges that it be considered only if less drastic alternatives to correct behavior problems fail — and only after owners are provided "complete education with regard to feline onychectomy."

But in Texas, Katie Jarl, director of the state chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, couldn't be any clearer: "If this practice was being performed on a human, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.

She adds, "It's an extremely painful procedure" that can lead to other behavior problems. Like, say, a cat's foregoing the litter box because the litter irritates its freshly amputated nubs.

"Also, cats have claws for a reason...They use [them] oftentimes as a defense mechanism, especially those cats that are outdoor cats," Jarl says. "And when they don't have that first defense, they will oftentimes go straight to biting."
_____________________

Thirty years ago, when a new partner in his veterinary practice began declawing cats, Aubrey Lavizzo didn't consider the procedure all that remarkable. The partner had learned the technique at Colorado State University; Lavizzo, who'd studied at Tuskegee University in the 1960s, when declawing was a lot less common, soon picked up the basics and began doing a few himself.

The partnership ended after several years. Lavizzo continued to declaw when pet owners asked for it, albeit with growing qualms. "We didn't have good anesthetics," he recalls. "Bleeding and post-operative pain were huge issues. We thought we were doing some good; we talked about how, if we didn't do it, these cats would lose their homes. But I started seeing more and more problems."

He saw post-op abscesses and cats gnawing their own paws. He saw blood-sprayed cages when the bandages weren't tight enough and sloughed-off flesh when they were too tight. Worst of all, he saw cats in severe pain days or weeks after the surgery. He began to doubt the wisdom of performing amputations to correct what was, after all, normal feline behavior — especially when there were less gruesome alternatives, from scratching posts to nail caps to weekly trims, available to even the laziest pet owner. After one particularly upsetting case, he decided he would never do another one.

"I finally just asked myself, 'Why am I hurting cats?'" he remembers. "There's no moral way to justify it. It's a violation of the oath we took."

Lavizzo stopped doing declaws in the 1990s, becoming one of the first vets in Colorado to denounce the procedure. "I had some good clients who begged me to do it, and I told them I couldn't, and I wouldn't refer them to anyone else," he says. "There's no right way to do an unnecessary surgery and somehow guarantee that there won't be complications."

Far from hurting his practice, Lavizzo's stance brought in new customers who were pleased that he didn't offer declawing. (Point of disclosure: Although I'm petless at present and was unaware of his declawing policy until recently, cats and dogs in my household were treated by Lavizzo for years.) He believes his position also attracted a stronger pool of job applicants, including assistants and technicians who prefer to work in a place that doesn't declaw. In 2011, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association named him Veterinarian of the Year. He's now the state director of Conrad's nonprofit, the Paw Project, and leading the campaign to ban declawing in Colorado.

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30 comments
gloria77503
gloria77503

I'm trying to find a vet in Harris County that does NOT declaw.  That is where I'd like to spend my money.  

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

anyone that follows the  pseudo-science of  Richard J. Herrnstein's philosophies does not deserve to have a computer nor do they deserve to critique anything until they come out of the ass backward way they think. In essence herrnstein was racially profiling people and absolutely refused to have his work peer reviewed until it was published.  stating that African-Americans low test score are due to heritage and breeding. as well as stating that environment has no play at all what so ever in Intelligent decision making. perhaps you should figure out whom the real ass clown is spewing a racially biased social scientist.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

And while you're at it, stop the cutting off of dog tails and cropping their ears.  How vain can you be to mutilate an animal and showcase it around?

Michael FunkyButt Peck
Michael FunkyButt Peck

Elderly are starving, 14 year old girls are being pimped out in this town, and we are dedicated to cats. We deserve each other

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

I LOVE CATS. ESPECIALLY PICKING THEM OUT OF THE RADIATOR.


Anastasia Molodtsova
Anastasia Molodtsova

I feel so guilty, that I allowed my relative to declaw my kitty. I made a research the next day and was crying and crying. Thanks God, she feels good now, no pain, aggressivity or defects. But in general I think it's interfering with nature.

Judith Cruz Villarreal
Judith Cruz Villarreal

my cat is declawed but I found her that way. i took her in over 10yrs ago. she hates when strangers touch her paws.

Jessica Byerly
Jessica Byerly

I will NEVER make my cat defenseless and in pain...there are products to keep cats from scratching furniture...buy a water bottle and a scratching post people...

Marco LopeZ
Marco LopeZ

This is a cruel thing to do. Its like cutting your fingers off at the first joint. How about taking your cat to the vet to trim their nails. It cost 15 bucks plus you won't be a asshole.

Sheila Flores-Crabb
Sheila Flores-Crabb

And this is why as MUCH as I'd like not to have torn up stuff I still can't do this to my cats. :(

Houstess
Houstess

It's amazing to me how many animal rights activists go way over the top on stupid issues like this, targeting a humane and painless (yes I said painless) way to provide a good home to a loving family for yet another cat that someone did not spay.  By the way, spaying is surgery, and just as not painful as declawing.  These same folks, many of them, stand with Wendy to advocate the dismembering of a fetus over the gestational age of 20 weeks in utero (extenuating circumstances not limiting the thought process).  Not saying this is the author's stance, but largely, the animal "rights" activists also advocate late term abortion.  To say I just don't follow the logic is an understatement.  SMH

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Have a problem with your cats claws? Clip them, with a flat tip they can't exact any damage on anything or anyone, just be sure you know what you're doing so you don't clip the bloodline/quick. This declawing crap is cruel and unnecessary.

slumpville
slumpville

I had a cat that would scratch herself raw. Just to give you an idea of how horrible it was, our walls were splattered with blood all over the house. We tried all sorts of medications and changes to try to help her. Nothing worked well enough to stop her from hurting herself. We declawed her. It greatly improved her quality of life. She did not seem to have any problems. I can't imagine declawing to save my furniture but I have never had cats thats ruin furniture. My current cat was not allowed unsupervised with the couch until we were sure we had taught her that this was not an okay place to scratch.

Kaf1958
Kaf1958

Well, this article was about cats, not 14 yr old girls.

Kaf1958
Kaf1958

The topic is cat declawing, not human abortion.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

@Houstess Another post for another time unless you want these post to center on the 1950's because you've never left that decade.

Jefs_Old_Boss
Jefs_Old_Boss

@gossamersixteen In fact as many cats get older it's necessary to prevent ingrown claws which are also painful for little cat feets.

hudgal1
hudgal1

@slumpville  Your cat was probably experiencing allergies. I used to have a cat who scratched her self raw like that too. I ended up taking her for a monthly allergy shot. After doing a little research, I have discovered that most pet allergies are attributed to the food they're eating, with corn being the biggest culprit. Switching your pet's food to a grain-free food is the easiest and first thing you should try.

hudgal1
hudgal1

@slumpville Your cat was probably experiencing allergies. I used to have a cat who scratched her self raw like that too. I ended up taking her for a monthly allergy shot. After doing a little research, I have discovered that most pet allergies are attributed to the food they're eating, with corn being the biggest culprit. Switching your pet's food to a grain-free food is the easiest and first thing you should try.

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

@roguebotanist @txmarine0001 so you use a dead social scientist to try and humiliate me when i was making a joke especially a dead social scientist that has literally TOMES of peer reviews that are all criticisms btw i happen to have an established IQ of 120. foolish of you to assume that I do not have an education. I JUST HATE CATS.

slumpville
slumpville

@hudgal1 I agree. We tried the shots and food changes as recommended by our vet, but they did not fix the problem. That is why I said "we tried all sorts of medications and changes". 

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

@roguebotanist  what exactly is incoherent and rambling about my statement? perhaps i should come see you as you have been obviously smoking some of your own botany.

 
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