Declawing Law May be Clipped
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Melody Hanatani, Santa Monica Daily Press

A controversial surgical procedure that animal lovers have dubbed as an amputation on cats could face restrictions in Santa Monica.

The City Council on Tuesday directed its staff to draft an ordinance that would ban the veterinary practice of declawing cats, limiting the procedure only to cases in which it would be in the direct therapeutic interest of the animal.

With just a few months left before a new state law prohibiting cities from banning declawing goes into effect on Jan. 1, the local ordinance faces a tight deadline, needing to be enacted by the end of the year to be grandfathered.

A similar ordinance was considered in 2004.

"We're not talking here about pampering your pet with a manicurist," said Councilman Kevin McKeown, who made the request to staff with Councilwoman Gleam Davis.

"So-called declawing is 10 separate painful amputations of the first joint of each toe on both front paws, 20 amputations if the front and hind paws are done."

Declawing opponents call the procedure inhumane, causing behavioral problems in cats that can lead them to abandonment at the shelter where they can subsequently be put down.

Dr. Armaiti May, a Santa Monica veterinarian who makes house calls, said she has witnessed the complications from the procedure, including one cat that ended up becoming crippled because the bandages were placed so tightly that it was unable to use its legs properly.

She notes that some of the other effects include increased biting and litter box aversion.

"These behavioral problems are greater cause for relinquishment to shelters than scratching behaviors," she said.

Dr. Ken Jones, a veterinarian in Santa Monica, said he has never in the past 24 years of practice ever saw the need to declaw a cat.

"I feel it's amputation of the toes and it verges on mistreatment, which verges on abuse," he said.

Such bans have been opposed by the California Veterinary Medical Association, which has sued the city of West Hollywood for blocking a surgical procedure they argue was allowed under state law.

Dr. Mark Nunez, the president of the association, said with current technology, which includes laser surgery, and pain management medication, the procedure is not as painful and the outcomes not as disastrous as opponents claim.

He adds that the procedure is not prevalent and veterinarians are not offering it to make money.

"Veterinarians are not just adding it on to a routine spay or neuter procedure like one would supersize a meal from McDonald's," he said.

He said that declawing should only be used to save a cat's life, keeping it out of a shelter where it might be euthanized. He also dismissed claims that declawing is the same as a cosmetic procedure, saying it trivializes the seriousness of the procedure and efforts made by the doctor and pet owner to understand the individual circumstance's of a cat's behavior.

"Life and death decisions are being made for a cat's life and these decisions cannot be made in a City Council chamber," he said. "These decisions must be made in the exam room between a caring, loving and informed cat owner and their knowledgeable, educated and experienced veterinarian."

The proposed local law received some concern from Councilman Richard Bloom, who was the lone member to vote against the drafting of the ordinance, believing it would interfere with the rights of pet owners.

He noted that the California Supreme Court sided with West Hollywood in 2007 in its ban and that declawing opponents had two years since to bring the ordinance to Santa Monica city officials.

"There really is no emergency here I can detect," Bloom said. "If there was an emergency, this would have been brought to us long ago."

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