Illinois could become the third state in the country to ban declawing cats, a procedure many see as inhumane but that others say might sometimes be necessary to get cats out of shelters and into homes.
Legislation passed by the Illinois House would levy an escalating series of fines against anyone caught removing a cat’s claws for anything other than medical or therapeutic reasons. Under the measure, declawing would not be allowed simply to “make the cat more convenient to keep or handle.”
“What I’m trying to do is prevent those individuals that just want to get it cosmetically done just because they don’t want the cat to scratch them or scratch the furniture,” Democratic state Rep. Barbara Hernandez of Aurora, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, told the Tribune. “Like, that’s not a good reason why this cat should suffer.”
Republican state Rep. Charles Meier of Highland, who voted against the bill, questioned how much cats actually suffer when they are declawed.
“I don’t know if they have ever watched a cat even be declawed, but they give them pain medicine before they do it,” Meier said. “And the next morning they are sticking their paw out the cage wanting you to play with it already. So it’s not a long-lasting, permanent harm to it.”
Meier also brought a partisan angle into the argument, alleging that the bill’s 10 Democratic sponsors and other supporters “are willing to abort a baby right before birth but they won’t let you declaw a cat.”
The bill passed in the House March 16 on a 67-38 vote — with 36 no votes coming from Republicans — and is now before the Senate.
The debate around declawing is long-running and fierce. The American Veterinary Medical Association website says AVMA discourages declawing but “respects the veterinarian’s right to use professional judgment,” thus leaving the door open for declawing.
While declawing can make cats more house-friendly, given their tendency to rip up furniture and scratch humans, for many animal lovers the physical and psychological effects of the procedure are enough to do away with it.
Ashlynn Boyce, who helps navigate cats at risk of euthanization to safe homes through her nonprofit Paws and Claws rescue organization, said she sees lasting negative effects on cats that have been declawed. Among other things, it can make it painful for cats to step into litter material, “so they stop using the litter box,” she said.
“You’re amputating part of their knuckle,” Boyce said. “I’ve seen nothing good that comes from this surgery, truly.”
Since New York became the first state to ban the nontherapeutic declawing of cats in 2019, many other states have considered following suit. But Maryland is so far the only other state to enact similar legislation. Bills in Virginia and Florida have stalled, while Missouri tried to pass a bill that would preemptively prevent the state from limiting declawing.
In Illinois, enforcing the measure would fall to the state’s Department of Agriculture under the bill passed by the House. First infractions would incur a $500 penalty, with fines ramping up to as much as $2,500 for third-time offenders.
Nail clipping — which the Humane Society recommends doing every two to three weeks — would still be fully legal.
Dr. Joanne Carlson, the president of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, says she is working with lawmakers to try to alter the language to allow some declawing to take place.
“What we’re asking for is discretion for those special circumstances that are not cosmetic,” Carlson said.
She said the state bill has “some merit” but she also thinks vets should be able to make the decision when other options are exhausted and the declawing is not cosmetic. While she could not provide a number of times the procedure takes place in the state per year, Carlson said it is not commonly done.
According to Dr. Lauren Jakubowski, a veterinarian with Oz Animal Hospital in Lincoln Park, cats being declawed are put under anesthesia before the “entire last portion of the digit beyond the last knuckle is removed surgically, and the skin is closed over it and sutured to allow healing.”
“If done, exceptional pain control should be given, as it is an amputation of the last part of the toe,” she said. Jakubowski added her hospital does not conduct the surgery, but agrees with AVMA’s guidelines.
There are two common arguments made for allowing cats to be declawed. One is that for elderly owners in particular, for whom cats often provide important companionship but who have weaker immune systems, cat scratches can lead to blood loss and infections.
Carlson thinks this could be a time when a vet might decide that declawing is the best way forward for both the cat and its elderly owner.
Another argument is that cats who scratch both people and furniture may be turned back to shelters, and a declawed cat in a home is better off than a cat with claws stuck in a shelter.
Boyce, while acknowledging that “we can’t expect cats not to scratch,” doesn’t think that’s a valid trade-off.
“I would much rather have a cat back in our program because the adopter decided that they could not handle the cat than they declaw that cat and that cat then comes back into our program a broken cat that we then have to try and put the pieces back together,” Boyce said.
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May 1, 2023 at 03:51PM