Austin took its first baby step towards instituting a citywide ban on declawing cats. If it moves forward, Austin would be the first city in Texas to ban the procedure, joining other cities in the U.S. with declawing bans, including Los Angeles and Denver.
A bill prohibiting veterinarians in Austin from performing declawing surgeries unless necessary for medical reasons went before the Austin Animal Advisory Commission on September 10, where it was unanimously approved.
The proposed bill was brought forward by Katrina Breitreiter and Nicole Martell-Moran, two Austin veterinarians who are also on the board of directors of The Paw Project, a national organization that advocates against declawing.
The mission of The Paw Project is to educate the public about what it calls "the painful and crippling effects" of feline declawing, to promote animal welfare through the abolition of the practice of declaw surgery, and to rehabilitate cats that have been declawed.
Breitreiter says that a ban on declawing fits in with Austin's "culture of progressive animal welfare."
"The city prides itself on being a leader in animal welfare issues," she says. "And declawing has really fallen out of favor, even among the veterinary organizations that set the standards of veterinary medicine practices. The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners have both released position statements opposing declawing and strongly discouraging it."
According to Bretreiter, 63 percent of declawed cats are left with bone fragments in their toes after surgery. "That is essentially like walking with a pebble in your shoe," she says. "As a veterinarian, we take an oath to cause no harm, and to alleviate pain, so to declaw in a way breaks the veterinarian's oath."
Declawing is actually a misleading name for a surgery that removes actual bones from the cat's paw. People generally get their cats declawed for two reasons: They're averse to being scratched personally and they don't want their furniture to get ruined.
"The only reason is for the convenience of the owner but that's not a justifiable reason," Bretreiter says. "People usually change their mind once they learn what declawing entails and what the consequences are to the animal's well-being. It's not hard to teach cats to use appropriate scratching surfaces."
Other justifications in favor of declawing include the idea that more cats will be relinquished, but Bretreiter says that the statistics in Los Angeles, where they've had a declawing ban since 2009, are the opposite: relinquishments have gone down and adoptions have gone up.
"There's no evidence that banning declawing would decrease shelter intake," she says. "Part of the testimony at the Animal Advisory Commission on Monday night was that there were so many vets with personal account of cats that had been declawed and put outside anyway. If a person doesn't want their cat, it seems they will put it outside whether it's declawed or not."
The last defense of declawing that Bretreiter says she hears is "the little old lady" with frail skin worried about getting scratched.
"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend declawing as a means of preventing disease," Bretreiter says. "There's good data in a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery that shows an increased likelihood in declawed cats to bite and have aggressive behavior. A cat bite wound is far more serious injury than a scratch."
Now that the Austin Animal Advisory Commission has given the bill its unanimous approval, it will head to the Health and Human Services Committee before eventually going before the Austin City Council.