California Cities Passing Cat Declawing Laws
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Some California cities are passing cat declawing laws before a new state law takes effect on January 1st.
DOUG MYRLAND (Host): I’m Doug Myrland, in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days in San Diego. Some California cities are passing laws which ban the declawing of cats, and they’ve been passing those laws recently because they want to get the laws on the books before a new state law takes effect on January 1st. That state law would forbid cities from passing laws that ban declawing. Now our guest this morning is Dr. Jennifer Conrad, founder of The Paw Project, and she’s a supporter of the cat declawing bans. Dr. Conrad, we’re glad you could be with us.
DR. JENNIFER CONRAD (Founder, The Paw Project): Thanks, Doug, for having me.
MYRLAND: I want to let everybody know that we did contact the California Veterinary Medical Association to come on the program. That association has been the main opponent of California cities passing those declawing bans ahead of the January first deadline. The California Veterinary Medical Association declined our request to come on today’s show. So, Jennifer, I want to ask you, just to start off in general, why do you oppose declawing?
DR. CONRAD: Well, I think that declawing is never good for an animal. It’s only good for the person who has the animal and it’s only because it’s convenient. But there’s so many humane alternatives why would we choose to perform the inhumane declawing? Declawing is a misnomer. It’s not just removing the claw, it’s actually amputating the last bone in every one of a cat’s toes. It’s extremely painful surgery, and it’s very commonly done.
MYRLAND: I want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. We’d love to have you join the conversation. Dr. Conrad, I want to ask you a couple of – more than a couple of questions about declawing but I want to start with declawing of big cats because that seems to be one of the concerns that’s been expressed by you and others who are in favor of the declawing bans, and that has to do with large animals, not housecats but other kinds of cats. Could you talk us through some of the issues involved there?
DR. CONRAD: Well, declawing is performed in large cats like tigers and lions, for instance, in order to – it’s supposedly going to make them safer to be with but, in fact, declawed cats bite more so it gives people nothing but a false sense of security by declawing the cat. And I find in working with these big cats that the cats that have their claws are much easier to work with. They’re far less temperamental and much less likely to bite. So by leaving them in their normal state with their claws, they are actually safer to work with than the ones that have been declawed because those ones have to resort to biting.
MYRLAND: I want to follow through with this idea of large cats. I understand that there’s a population of large cats that needs to be taken care of that don’t really – That people have them as domestic pets, if you will, or in private zoos and then they need to move on someplace else and what’s the disadvantage of those cats being declawed? Aren’t they more adoptable, in other words, if they don’t have their claws?
DR. CONRAD: No, they’re not be – Well, first of all, it is illegal in the state of California to declaw any wild or exotic cat. So – And the USDA also has a regulation saying that anybody who is licensed by the USDA cannot declaw that type of cat. So the declawing is going out on those cats, and it’s a good thing because the reason those cats are declawed is because people think they’re going to be safer but if you look at the big cats who have bitten people that have made the news, or killed people, if you look at the big cats that have killed those people or bitten people, they are almost always declawed. And that’s because they have to resort to biting to protect themselves or to – you know, when they’re aggressive. They don’t have their – they know they don’t have their nails so they choose their teeth.
MYRLAND: I want to get to our listeners. We have some interest on the part of our listeners who want to participate in the conversation. I want to go to Kaye in UTC. Kaye, welcome to the program.
KAYE (Caller, University Towne Center): Hi. I was really surprised when I did some research on this subject how many countries around the world have come to the conclusion that declawing is very disfiguring to animals and have banned it. Besides just these cities, lots of countries around the world have decided this already. And also, I was surprised to learn that there’s a product that is a really great viable alternative to declawing domestic cats.
MYRLAND: And that would be a product that would cover their paws, right?
KAYE: A nail cap, yeah.
MYRLAND: Dr. Conrad, would you like to comment about that?
DR. CONRAD: Well, that’s true that declawing is actually considered so inhumane or unethical or is actually literally banned all throughout the rest of the world in many, many places. And, in fact, in the United Kingdom, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which is the equivalent of like our CVMA, the California Veterinary Medical Association, calls it unnecessary mutilation. So I think that the United States is behind the times on this. I mean, it is one of the most painful routinely performed surgeries in all of veterinary medicine and yet 30% of veterinarians, according to the literature, are not using any pain medication whatsoever when they declaw a cat.
MYRLAND: Dr. Conrad, I think most of us have had some experience, either had a friend who had a declawed cat or been acquainted with one. And I have to say, I – it’s not obvious that a declawed cat, at least in my experience, is in pain. They seem pretty normal. For a domesticated housecat, when the procedure’s done in a humane way, aren’t there some advantages to making that animal be more adoptable, more compatible with family life? Aren’t some of those animals less likely to end up in a shelter because they’ve been declawed?
DR. CONRAD: No, actually the statistics prove the opposite. Declawing – by declawing a cat, the cat is, at a rate of 2 to 1, more likely to lose its life or end up in a shelter because of being declawed because declawed cats bite more because they’ve been robbed of their primary defense, and declawed cats use the litter box less because, I assume, it hurts to dig in the sand. So because of those two variables, declawed cats, actually when you look at the statistics, are more likely to lose their homes. Now there are so many humane alternatives like cutting the nails, using the nail caps, finding the appropriate scratching post, there’s so many humane alternatives that declawing is not necessary. There is no reason to do it.
MYRLAND: I want to go to Paul in San Marcos who has some comments for us. Paul, welcome to the program.
PAUL (Caller, San Marcos): Yeah, this is interesting. For the Veterinary Association to be for this procedure is kind of like the AMA being for lobotomy. And what I find this very interesting that they don’t even want to show up and talk about this. I think that speaks volumes and I would like to ask the doctor, does it never speak about this? Because it seems to me like it’s indefensible.
DR. CONRAD: I agree with you. And I was glad that they didn’t show up because their arguments I can give you are so silly, in my opinion, that there’s no reason for the public to hear them. Their arguments are that it should be between a veterinarian and a client whether they declaw a cat and that they say that by declawing, a cat will stay in its home but the statistics show that declawing actually makes these cats lose their homes at a rate of 2 to 1. And any shelter worker will tell you there are declawed cats in the shelter all the time. They have cats who have lost their homes even though they were declawed. And the rescue groups that I work with, they, across the board, in their contract, will not allow a potential adopter to declaw the cat. And you would think that these people have so many cats and are in need of so many homes but on that factor alone, they will not let the cat go because they know they’re going to get it back.
MYRLAND: Dr. Conrad, I want to talk a little bit about your political position on these bans. You know, you’re involved in politics when you get involved with city government and state government and I’m not going to characterize the California Veterinary Medical Association’s position other than to say that some of the things that they’ve said have to do with making public policy on an individual city basis rather than a statewide basis. And isn’t what’s going on now creating kind of a confusing patchwork of laws from city to city and around the state?
DR. CONRAD: I personally don’t think so. I think the veterinarians are smart enough to know which city they are working with – in and what the law is, just as they are smart enough to know what the sales tax is in that city. I mean, it’s quite easy for them to know that cities change, the laws change from city to city, and I don’t think that it’s such a big deal. And if they want to help me make it illegal at the state level, then that will alleviate that problem.
MYRLAND: I want to send another invitation to our listeners to join this conversation. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Again, to talk about just the current situation, the state has said now that cities may not pass laws that ban declawing after January one, so some cities have hurried up to pass those laws. As a practical matter, Dr. Conrad, it still isn’t very hard to get a cat declawed. I mean, if you’re living in Santa Monica or Los Angeles where they’ve banned declawing, you can just go to the next city over and find a veterinarian to do it there, so what’s really the practical effect of all this?
DR. CONRAD: Well, I think that the law actually is written that no one is allowed to procure declawing so in that sense, that a citizen of Santa Monica is not allowed to go to another city, although I understand that that’s going to be hard to enforce, but the idea is that cities are saying this cruelty is not allowed in our borders. And I think that the state will sit up and recognize that, you know, now 15% of the population of California or so has – is not allowed to declaw their cats. Remember also that the law that is coming on January first was completely and solely sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association. It was because of them that these cities are banning declawing. It was because they had this law made and the cities felt like they didn’t have the right to usurp their power so they were in a hurry to ban declawing.
MYRLAND: I want to go to Ken in San Diego, who would like to join the conversation. Ken, welcome to These Days.
KEN (Caller, San Diego): Hello. Hello, Dr. Conrad.
DR. CONRAD: Hello.
KEN: I had a couple of questions for you. To play devil’s advocate, I’d like to ask you about owners such as immunocompromised owners, or owners who have cats that are destroying their furniture and are going to give them away to a shelter or have them euthanized just purely due to destruction of their own objects and you feel that then it’s warranted to declaw the cats?
DR. CONRAD: I still feel that it’s not warranted and let me tell you why. First of all, immunocompromised people, if they go to their doctors, to their MDs, like or they research immunocompromised guidelines like on CDC for – on the CDC website or on the public health of the U.S., those guidelines actually say don’t declaw the cat. Do not declaw the cat because they know that declawed cats bite more. So it’s the veterinarians once again giving a rationalization of why they want to be able to declaw cats when they bring up immunocompromised people because declawed cats bite more and we all know that bite wounds are, in general, far worse than a scratch. The other reason if someone is intolerant of their cat scratching the couch, there are humane alternatives. In fact, the AVMA, the American Veterinary Medical Association, in their position statement on declawing, says that declawing should only be considered after all humane alternatives have been tried, or exhausted, actually, is what they say. So this is not what’s happening with declawing. 76% of cats are declawed before they are 8 months old. It’s impossible to have exhausted all the alternatives before a cat is 8 months old. And if someone is so intolerant of a cat scratching their couch and they’ve tried the alternatives, if they declaw the cat and the cat starts peeing on the couch, that cat for sure is going to go to the pound. So it doesn’t save a home, it really doesn’t work that way. If it did, if declawing really saved cats’ lives, I would not be fighting this battle. I wouldn’t do it because I would understand that, but it’s actually declawing and then they go to the pound. It’s much more possible they’ll go to the pound from being declawed.
MYRLAND: Dr. Conrad, I want to ask you just on a practical matter what some of those alternatives actually are just so people can get their mind around how you can prevent a cat from damaging your furniture without declawing them. But first I want to go to Ryan in Mira Mesa who has been waiting patiently to join the conversation. Ryan, welcome to the program.
RYAN (Caller, Mira Mesa): Thank you. I used to work with Southern California Siamese Rescue for a number of years so I’m familiar with both the earlier stated rules about not declawing adopted cats. And I have some insight into having a houseful of cats. At one point I think the most we ever had in the house ready to go out for adoption was 14, so we – I do have some insight into this subject. And, first of all, I will say having seen all sorts of cats come through the program, your guest is absolutely correct. Those which have been declawed bite a lot more and, in fact, several of them ended up sending my wife to the hospital because of infected bites. And it takes a long time to rehabilitate them because they’re very clearly not as well adjusted as cats who still have their claws. But there is one thing I would like to say about the rule in the contract, it’s not just because it’s inhumane. It’s also a filtering element for adoptive cat parents, if you will, because those most likely to declaw are those who most likely want the animal without having all of the problems that come with having an animal that’s not a human being in the house. So they don’t want their furniture scratched up and if anything happens, they are more likely to get rid of the cat and send it to the shelter. So what we’re trying to do is keep those folks from adopting the animal because they are inherently more likely to be sending them back to the shelter at the end.
MYRLAND: Okay, well…
RYAN: And so it’s a matter more of personal responsibility than it is anything else.
MYRLAND: Well, thank you, Ryan. I do want to say, Dr. Conrad, again, we are talking about the difference between a public policy and an individual decision and we all do know people who had cats who are scrupulous about keeping their cats inside so the cat doesn’t be outside and not have its defense mechanism, who are successfully living with declawed cats, and I think there’s an argument here that can be made that says this is really an individual decision that an individual cat owner ought to be allowed to make even though there are plenty of people who think it’s a bad idea. Should there really be a law and a public policy against it.
DR. CONRAD: Well, I think that what is most important and why it is because – why we have to make it public policy is because the AVMA guidelines say declawing should be used only after all humane alternatives have been exhausted and yet 76% of cats are declawed before they’re 8 months old. Clearly, the veterinarians have failed in regulating themselves, on top of the fact that declawing gives people a false sense of security because declawed cats are more likely to bite. So that puts a burden on both the emergency hospital system and also on the shelter system because the cats are losing their home at a rate of 2 to 1. And this is why it has to be public policy because it has to be to protect the entire citizenship of the city, not just the right of that one person to do whatever they want to their cat. That’s why it has to be public policy.
MYRLAND: I want to join the conversation with Verma in Chula Vista. Verma, welcome to the program.
VERMA (Caller, Chula Vista): Hi there. What I wanted to say was if the cat is destroying things – My sister’s roommate was given a kitten. My sister says, oh, no, you’re not going to declaw it in my house, so the cat wasn’t. The cat has everything that it can reach that’s wood, doorjambs, table legs, are just horrible. It doesn’t usually do the cloth things, only the wooden things. So – And the cat has a scratching post, a tower, you know, a condo, whatever. I would’ve killed the cat myself. But what can you do to make it not do that?
MYRLAND: Well here’s an opportunity, Dr. Conrad, for you to talk about some of those humane alternatives. What can one do to get the cat to be a better household pet?
DR. CONRAD: Well, clearly the cat wants to scratch on wood and the description of the scratching post, it sounds like it’s carpet. So I would find a scratching post that was wood and give – put catnip on it so the cat knew that it was for the cat. And I would also trim the cat’s nails once a week. Or if that wasn’t working, you could put Soft Paws, which are little vinyl sheaths, the equivalent of Lee Press-On Nails for cats, over the nail to protect – I mean, that will protect anything because the cat can’t scratch anything with those on.
DR. CONRAD: There are all sorts of humane alternatives. I think that that – the other thing that’s really possible is cat training. Believe it or not, cats can be trained and it doesn’t take long for them. You just have to figure out what motivates them and sometimes you have to call a trainer to come over and help you but there are so many humane alternatives. Now if someone is that intolerant of the table legs being scratched in the house, that person is certainly going to be intolerant of the bed being peed on when the cat doesn’t want to use anything but something very soft to pee on.
MYRLAND: I want to have a chance to get to hear from some more listeners. We’ve got a lot of interest in this subject. I want to go to Norm in Imperial Beach. Norm, welcome to the conversation.
NORM (Caller, Imperial Beach): Yeah, the thing about cats is you’ve got to pamper them and spoil them rotten and then they don’t – Like I have cats and because you pet them a lot – Now, cats have a language of their own. If you listen to the meows, there’s about five or six different ones that relate to what the cat is feeling. Like if he’s a little bit slightly annoyed, he’ll rowr but at the end it’s kind of a harumph at the end of that. And you have to listen to your cat. A cat will actually kind of talk to you and has his own language that he uses with other cats and all so like that there. But you have to kind of pay attention to what the cat is telling you. But pet them a lot. Pet them and stroke them. When they come in and they’re going rowr-rowr-rowr-rowr-rowr, they’re saying I want to be petted. I need attention. And the claws will stay in. My cats jump up on me and only if they feel like they’re slipping or some kind of accident happens will they even, you know, bring their claws out.
MYRLAND: Well, Norm, thank you for that. And thanks to all of the other callers who participated and wanted to participate. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get to all the calls. Dr. Conrad, I want to ask you one quick question. Some vets say the only options they have sometimes are to declaw a cat or to euthanize that cat, that the owner is insisting. What do you suggest in that kind of a situation?
DR. CONRAD: I suggest that the veterinarian say lookit, there are so many humane alternatives. You can keep your cat. He – Your cat can keep his claws and we can all be happy. I don’t think that a veterinarian should succumb to blackmail. That would be the equivalent of an owner coming in with a dog and saying my dog jumps up on the couch, will you amputate all four legs or else I’m going to kill the dog. I mean, that is just not – it’s just not right. It’s not part of being a doctor, it’s not part of being a veterinarian. And I think that if we eliminate this option of declawing, then all the humane alternatives will be easily employed and all the cats can keep their claws, people can keep their cats and they will be fine.
MYRLAND: Okay, well, we’ve been speaking with Dr. Jennifer Conrad, she’s the founder of The Paw Project, a supporter of cat declawing bans. Dr. Conrad, we want to thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate you taking the time to participate and talk to all of our listeners.
DR. CONRAD: I’m glad to have been here.
MYRLAND: Speaking to – of our listeners, you can continue to make your comments on our website, KPBS.org/TheseDays. There’s a comment section there and we’d love to have you continue this conversation on our website, KPBS.org. I also want to remind everyone we did contact the California Veterinary Medical Association to send a representative on the program and they were unable to participate with us this morning. You’re listening to These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and we’ll be right back after this quick break.