Monday, May 02, 2011
Research paper: Banning Convenience Declawing
Banning convenience declawing
From the increasing popularity of pet spas and pet day care “camps” to the billions of dollars spent on premium food, toys, accessories, and treats, Americans show that devotion to their animals continues to grow. Most pet owners treat their animal companions as family members and would never purposely hurt or disfigure them. Yet some owners hurt and disfigure their cats by declawing them. Convenience declawing is done for such non-medical reasons as “we just got new furniture”, “we don’t want to take the time to train the cat”, or other reasons that have nothing to do with the welfare of the cat. This controversial surgery is considered as cruel, painful, and mutilating, though it is still performed by many vets in the United States. More humane vets educate clients about non-surgical alternatives rather than providing declawing. Official policy statements against declawing have been issued by numerous national and international animal welfare groups and veterinary medical associations. Pet owners are wise to question the ethical position of vets that offer elective declawing strictly for the convenience of an owner and not for medical reasons, as vets have pledged to alleviate animal suffering and not to cause it. There are a few medical reasons to declaw a cat such as an owner having a compromised immune system, or if a cat has injured a paw so severely that the claw and lower toe must be amputated. However, most declawing surgeries are requested to keep the cat from possibly clawing in the future. A ban on declawing for owner convenience should be supported because the procedure is cruel, mutilating, and painful for the cat, because there are non-surgical alternatives to keep the cat from scratching, because most medical and animal welfare organizations publicly oppose the procedure, and because there are already proposed and enacted laws in the US and abroad to prohibit the surgery unless it is medically necessary.
Owners are frequently told that declawing is a simple procedure and is easily done. But declawing is certainly not a simple and routine surgery such as spay and neuter. (Broder, 2003) “It seems there is a big difference between neutering to prevent unwanted animal births and performing a surgical mutilation for our own comfort.” (Ben Shaul, 1994) Declaw surgery is complicated and extremely painful and is often the cause of medical and behavioral complications. Declawing is so cruel that it is termed “inhumane” and an “unnecessary mutilation” in England, where it is banned. The entire toe is amputated up to the joint, including the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and all of the tendons. The surgery consists of “ten separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe”. In human terms, it would be having each finger cut off at the last joint. (Schelling, Technical Facts) The recovery is long and extremely painful, and the rate of complication is very high compared to other surgeries, fifty percent of the declawed cats had one or more complications immediately after surgery. (Feline Onychectomy at a Teaching Institution: A Retrospective Study of 163 cases, 1994) Using a laser rather than a knife does not change the level of pain or the result of the surgery, though some vets try to convince their clients otherwise. Vets that have spent upwards of forty-five thousand dollars for the laser machine frequently promote declawing in their practices. (Jan's Kitten Kids) Veterinary Doctor Nicholas Dodman said that partial digit amputation (declawing) is so horrible that it has been used as torture for prisoners of war. (Syufy, Declawing: Disclouse and Wait, 2011) The cat is designed to walk on the portion of the toes which are cut off during declawing. Removal of the last joint of the toe changes the animal’s balance and gait. This change of gait causes later arthritis and pain in the paws, shoulders, and spine.
In addition to the pain of amputation, the declawed cat is likely to exhibit behavioral problems that may lead to the animal’s surrender for euthanasia. Aggressive biting and litter box avoidance are common problems in declawed cats surrendered to shelters. While cats with claws are surrendered to shelters for human-related issues such as the owner moving and not being able to take the cat, declawed cats are surrendered for behavioral problems. Most declawed cats that entered shelters were euthanized because of litter box issues. Animal behaviorist Carole Wilborn quoted a study of a Delaware animal shelter that found “more than seventy-five percent of the cats turned in for avoiding their litter boxes had been declawed.” (Wilbourn) Other shelter studies report percentages of declawed cats euthanized for behavioral issues as higher, some as high as ninety percent. (Goldstein) Veterinary colleges do not even teach the ethics of declawing along with the surgical technique, nor do they teach the new vets the possibility that the surgery itself often leads to problems that end with euthanasia.
Scratching is a normal behavior that provides psychological comfort to the cat. “Vet students should learn the long term effects, along with why the cats need to scratch, along with their anatomy lesson.” (Syufy, Anti-Declaw Advocates Score Major Win: What Lies Ahead on the Declawing Front?, 2011) Cats relax through kneading with their claws extended. Claws additionally allow cats to climb and to fully stretch out their legs and back. Through scratching with their claws, cats also create a visual and scent identification mark, and condition their claws. (Swiderski, 2002) Scratching behaviors are instinctive to the cat. Humane alternatives to declawing surgery allow the clawed cat to enjoy these behaviors and still live in harmony with home furnishings. Nail trimming will lessen damage from scratching, synthetic feline facial pheromone sprays artificially mark territory and lessen the cat’s desire to mark with claws, and scratching posts and mats provided to the cat preserve furnishings. Behavior modification training and use of anti-scratching items also teach the cat where it may or may not scratch. In addition, easily applied plastic nail tips called “Soft Paws” protect all surfaces from the cat’s claws. Each or a combination of alternatives will eliminate the cat scratching on furnishings and other household items, solving the issue with little effort from the owner and without declawing.
A small percentage of declawing supporters say they would surrender their cats if they could not declaw them. Yet owners in countries which ban the procedure have millions of companion cats. The owners in non-declawing countries have no choice but to train their cat, provide alternative solutions such as “Soft paws” and scratching posts, or not adopt at all. Inconvenience of the owner for a time does not begin to compare to the pain and behavioral issues of the cat recovering from the amputation of its toes. The AVAR (Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights) notes that “some veterinarians have argued that some people would have their cats killed if declawing was not an option. We should not, however, allow ourselves to be taken 'emotional hostage' like this. If a person really would kill her or his cat in this case, it is reasonable to question the suitability of that person as a feline guardian, especially when there are millions of non-declawed cats living in harmony with people.” (Syufy, Are there any states in USA where declawing is illegal ? Which ones?, 2011)
Declawing is considered so cruel that numerous animal and veterinary groups have issued statements against the procedure, especially for non-medical reasons. The leading animal welfare organization is against declawing. “The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians. The only circumstance in which the procedure could be condoned would be if the health and safety of the guardian would be put at risk, as in the case of individuals with compromised immune systems or illnesses that cause them to be unusually susceptible to serious infections.” (ASPCA) Some other organizations that have issued similar public policy statements are: the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA), World Small Veterinary Association, Humane Society of the United States, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (Sturges, 2005), and the American Humane Society. Even the public position statement of the American Veterinary Medical Association says that declawing should be “considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing provides a zoonotic risk for its owner(s).” (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003)
Though the American Veterinary Medical Association says in their position statement that declawing should always be a last resort, (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2003) some member vets continue to declaw strictly for owner convenience. Departing from its own published position statements, the organization continues to fight efforts to ban convenience declawing. Declawing for non-medical reasons also contradicts the Veterinarian’s Oath in which the vet pledges to relieve animal suffering, not cause it. “I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.” (Journal of the American Veterinarian Medical Society, 2004) One vet commented, “As a profession, are we not giving a mixed message to the public in advocating companion animal health and welfare on the one hand and not abandoning such practices that are considered unethical by veterinarians and their clients in many other countries?” (Fox, 2006) The American Veterinary Medical Society has stated that it encourages educating clients about the actual procedure and what will actually happen to the cat. Unfortunately, many veterinarians do not fully educate owners about the procedure when promoting convenience declawing. Sadly, some owners also do not care to know what will happen to the cat. The only way to be sure that veterinarians are truly treating cats humanely is to ban convenience declawing.
Laws exist to protect animals in the United States from cruel living conditions, poor treatment, abuse, and neglect. Yet there has been no ban of declawing. While declawing is most commonplace in the United States and Canada, in many other countries declawing is either illegal or considered extremely inhumane and only performed under extreme circumstances. Declawing is banned in Europe, the British Isles, Bosnia, Slovenia, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, and Israel. (Schelling, Outlawed Countries) Declawing is a money making procedure for the vets that provide it, and many of those vets have fought against a ban of the procedure. Pro-declawing vets say they want the decision to declaw to be between the vet and client, and not regulated. It seems that these vets are also motivated by loss of declawing as a source of income. Some pro-declawing vets use this reasoning, “Since destructive clawing behavior can sometimes lead owners to euthanize their cat, the procedure can be a lifesaver.” (Syufy, Anti-Declaw Advocates Score Major Win: First Declawing Ban in US - West Hollywood, CA, 2011) But shelter directors, volunteers, and other vets state that surrender and euthanasia is much more common for litter box avoidance issues seen in declawed cats than for scratching behavior in clawed cats. In countries that ban declawing, owners use alternative non-surgical methods to counter destructive clawing behavior, driving euthanasia for litter box avoidance to low rates.
The movement to ban declawing has been growing with support from vets, animal owners, and animal welfare organizations. In California, some cities in which have introduced legislation are: Santa Monica (Drug Week staff editors, 2009), San Diego, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, and West Hollywood. West Hollywood’s ban initially passed in 2003, was subsequently overturned, but upon appeal was upheld. As recently as last year, Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood, CA) “introduced legislation that will prohibit veterinarians from declawing cats in the State of California.” (Goldstein) Legislation has been introduced to ban the procedure in other states; some bills have also focused upon the illegality of landlords requiring that cat owners declaw their cats. Attorney Brian Pease said of the fight against the practice in Massachusetts: “There’s no way that a federal law or any other law would require cats to be declawed because it’s such a cruel procedure.” (Wilbourn) Grass roots efforts in small municipalities to pass a declawing ban help other areas to pass bills to ban the surgery in these other communities. Many individual communities banning the procedure will help the United States join the long list of countries that have humanely banned declawing.
It is estimated that 93.6 million cats live as household companions in the United States. From seventy-five to eighty percent of cat owners do not declaw their cats. Some vets continue to perform declawing surgery despite causing long lasting physical and behavioral problems that often lead to surrender and euthanasia of the animal. The United States lags behind the rest of the developed world by delaying banning this cruel procedure. Since humane and non-surgical alternatives to declawing are available, there is little reason to consider declawing a cat. Public outcry is becoming more vocal as laws are introduced to ban declawing surgery as cruel. Though slow, the movement to ban convenience declawing in the United States is gaining momentum. The humanity of a people is illustrated by how the least of the creatures in their care are treated. It is up to owners and care givers to protect and treat humanely the beautiful cats that have been living with people for thousands of years. “If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat." - Mark Twain
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