Although declawing is becoming an increasingly divisive issue among vets, basic instruction in the surgery is still taught at all but two of the country's 28 veterinary schools. Tim Hackett, a professor at Colorado State University and interim director of CSU's veterinary teaching hospital, says the university offers the "least traumatic" surgical methods. "We respect that people have ethical concerns about this," he says, "but it's a procedure that is somewhat in demand, and a practitioner should be exposed to the proper surgical technique and medications. I'd hate to have them learning it on the fly."

Randa MacMillan, the current president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, stopped offering declawing in her own practice many years ago. But she suspects that the procedure is still "moderately common" among her membership and that the campaign to ban it will be a contentious one. She notes that an attempt last year to enact a ban on docking the tails of dairy cows — a surgery that makes things easier for the dairy industry but robs the animal of its only way to ward off flies — failed miserably.

"It's very hard to tell another vet how to practice," MacMillan says. "There are people who still routinely declaw, and these are the same ones who will really scream if somebody tries to tell them how to practice medicine."

Dr. Jennifer Conrad explains the difficulty of reconstructive surgery in a scene from The Paw Project.
Photo courtesy of THE PAW PROJECT MOVIE
Dr. Jennifer Conrad explains the difficulty of reconstructive surgery in a scene from The Paw Project.

Vets who do offer feline onychectomy say the current procedure, if properly done, has little in common with the butchery of big cats depicted in Conrad's film. Sara Mark, owner of the Southwest Veterinary Hospital in Littleton, Colorado, attended a screening of The Paw Project at Lavizzo's office a few weeks ago and left unpersuaded by the claims about long-term complications and behavior problems. "People involved in the rescues see the bad cases," she says. "In thirty years of practice, I have had no cats that regrew portions of nail. I had one that ended up with some neuritis that we were able to remedy."

Southwest Hospital recently came under fire on an antideclawing website for offering free declaws as part of a clinical trial for pain medication. Mark says the clients who participated in the study weren't encouraged by her team to declaw and were required to sign lengthy release forms disclosing the details of the surgery. She, too, stresses alternatives to declawing when clients ask about it: "If you don't want property damage in your house, don't have an animal," she says. But she also believes the surgery is justified in certain cases; she's had three immune-compromised clients seeking organ transplants who were told they'd be taken off the transplant list if they didn't have their cats declawed. And there's the prospect of a sofa-shredding cat losing its home.

"If it comes down to yet another cat that's going to live its life in a shelter or get euthanized," Mark says, "or doing a front declaw to let that cat live — I cannot in good conscience say, 'Yes, being dead is better than losing your claws.'"

But declawed cats end up in shelters, too. They may be more likely to end up there in later years, as arthritis and elimination problems surface, than cats that still have their claws. One study found that declawed cats are nearly twice as likely to be surrendered to shelters as their intact brethren. Because cats with behavior problems are much less likely to be deemed adoptable, their euthanization rate may be higher, too.

Yet the percentage of declawed cats found among shelter populations seems to vary widely. Scott of the Cat Care Society reports that her shelter currently has sixty cats awaiting adoption. Ten are declawed cats. Most of them were returned eight or more years after they were first adopted. Six of them were returned specifically because of failure to use the litter box.

Not all declawed cats have inappropriate elimination issues, of course. Hofve suggests that owners who insist on declawed pets can find suitable ones in shelters. And with better, less costly antiscratching options widely available, from furniture covers to consults with animal behaviorists, Hofve doesn't see any ethical rationale for the surgery.

"Maybe declawing does save some lives," she says. "But for others, it's a death sentence. It shouldn't be a choice between declawing and getting rid of the cat in the first place. It's a choice between declawing and many alternatives."

Conrad has a 2011 letter from Governor John Hickenlooper to a constituent that features a handwritten postscript: "We would never declaw a cat (and my wife Helen has had several)." She hopes other Colorado citizens feel the same way.

"Addressing a behavior problem with surgery in human medicine went out with lobotomy," she says. "This can be addressed with behavior modification, not surgery."


For animal lovers, the United States' practice of declawing cats can be a grim and depressing topic, but Conrad's documentary isn't as bleak as it sounds. "I didn't want to make an animal film where you walk out and you want to kill yourself," she says.

The Paw Project ends on an inspirational note, urging viewers to get involved in banning the surgery, just as Conrad and her supporters successfully got it banned in several California cities. It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that the Goliath who shows up in the film to try to squelch Conrad's grassroots rebellion is the California Veterinary Medical Association. After Conrad persuades city officials in West Hollywood to pass the first declawing ban of its kind in North America — Councilman John Duran is described as "mortified" after learning more about the surgery, which he'd had done on his own cat — the CVMA sues in an effort to overturn the ban.

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13 comments
JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

Illogical rebuttal. Not all cats that scratch and claw furniture stop using the litter box.

Jamie Van
Jamie Van

My cat is 13 and still has his claws. I would never think of doing that to any animal! By that logic, you would take out a dog's teeth because he chewed on your furniture.

Jeff Willett
Jeff Willett

I had a big tom cat I adopted from the shelter. He had his front paws declawed. It really didn't affect his ability to run around, they can adapt. Had a female that learned to only claw acceptable things, mainly. They were the best of friends.

Jennifer McAdam
Jennifer McAdam

I lived in Australia for awhile and my friends thought I made 'declawing' up. They were appalled to find out that it is very common here in the states.

Stacia Hand
Stacia Hand

We have two cats and have used Soft Claws for years. It's easy and painless. I would never declaw a cat. I've known cats who've been put through the procedure. A few have limped for the remainder of their lives, most have become obese because they can't climb and get traction and have given up playing. Some have become depressed and fearful of all humans. But the worst were the ones who went in friendly and lovable and came out completely aggressive and violent. They felt threatened and couldn't defend themselves with their claws, so instead they just tried to bite everyone. Sorry, declawing just isn't the answer. Properly placed scratching posts using different materials and simple behavior modification will fix the problem in almost all animals. If you think otherwise, trot down to the doctor and have them take off the distal phalanges on one hand and see how you feel.

Brittney Jasper
Brittney Jasper

I used to work in a vet's office in college and witnessed several of these procedures. It was hard to watch (since the entire tip of the bone is cut off with the nail) but the worst part was the cats crying afterwards in their cages. Don't know if you've ever heard a cat "yell" in pain, but it's quite sad.

rongaskin
rongaskin

The diagram of the cat finger illustrates beautifully what is fundamentally flawed with declawing cats. The labeled ligament is actually a tendon. Tendons attach muscle to a bone. The structure connecting the phalange 2 and phalange 3 is a ligament. When a declaw is performed the top digital extensor tendon is cut and the bottom deep digital flexor tendon is cut. Cut the skin and the two collateral ligaments and cat's finger is "declawed". The superficial digital flexor tendon attached to the back bottom of phalange 2 is not shown this tendon pulls the cat's finger into a club foot with the passing of years. The mutilated finger is now driving the amputated bone end into the floor. Digital paw pad callouses develop. Maybe we should understand the fundamental anatomy of the cat's paw before wacking it off!!!!

Kesaruh Mitkos
Kesaruh Mitkos

I hate declawing. Very much against it. For everyone who is all for it.. There are many alternative s. Simple rubber nail covers you glue on are at Walmart.

Lydia Rose
Lydia Rose

I always watch the show "My Cat From Hell" and think to myself that every situation on there could have been avoided if the cats were declawed. Of course not every cat with claws is a problem cat, but if cats have behavioral problems, their claws can be more than a inconvenience. That is when they truly risk a life in shelters.

Justin Smith
Justin Smith

It is mean. My two cats have their claws and only claw on the post that was meant for.

Cate Bischof
Cate Bischof

Eric Bischof read this, made me think of that time you and your mom secretly declawed my cat because I decided I was against it.

Alicia Hernandez
Alicia Hernandez

if the sole reason for not wanting to bring a cat into your home is because their claws are an inconvenience... maybe you shouldn't have one at all. I have two cats, both have claws and I've never had an issue with my little guys.

Dan Foshage
Dan Foshage

Kesaruh Mitkos you have been talking about this forever

 
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