Maryland poised to become one of first states in nation to ban declawing cats

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Move over, liquor lobby. Step aside, Big Pharma. The cat lobby has arrived in Annapolis and already notched a win: Maryland is poised to become the second state in the country to ban declawing.

The procedure, commonly performed for decades but now deemed barbaric and unnecessary by pet owners and some veterinarians, is banned in many parts of the world and also in several cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Denver. New York passed a statewide ban in 2019.

Now, Maryland lawmakers are poised to prohibit veterinarians from removing a cat’s claws unless under a tight set of circumstances — not for cosmetic reasons or to make handling the cat easier. Lawbreakers could pay as much as $5,000 for a first offense and see their veterinary license suspended.

“While the US veterinary community is increasingly opposed to declawing, we can’t continue to wait for the profession to end declawing on its own,” Danielle Bays of the Humane Society of the United States said.

The declawing bill is the second major animal rights legislation in recent years to gain momentum in Maryland. In 2018, the state became the second — behind California — to ban the retail sale of puppies and kittens, an attempt to crack down on “puppy mills,” an informal term for establishments that breed dogs for profit in inhumane conditions. This year, animal rights advocates are also pushing for a bill that would close the loophole in the domestic ivory trade, making it illegal to sell products from imperiled species.

The measure, first introduced in the 2020 session, which was cut short before a vote on the matter, is expected to receive final approval in the House this week. An identical bill passed the Senate last month, and they could soon be headed to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers who have wrangled over topics from tax credits to renters’ rights in recent years quickly reached consensus on cats.

“You can’t ignore the fact that animal lovers are outspoken activists, and this is an election year,” said Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), the Senate bill sponsor. “There are a lot of interest groups that are highly paid and influential corporate interest, but these are, you know, average Marylanders who want to protect the cats. And they have no special interest other than doing the right thing by their pets. It’s pretty inspiring and it’s hard to ignore.”

Kagan made her case with pictures of herself cradling her “corona kitty” and graphic shots of 10 knuckle bones of a declawed cat.

Vets sometimes remove a portion of the paw or digit of an animal or modify the tendon of the limb, paw or digit to stop a claw from extending. Kagan called it de-knuckling. Others referred to declawing as an amputation.

Declawing “takes not just the nail, but the nail bed and part of the bone and cuts it off,” she said. “What happens is that leaves a cavity there, and that makes it very painful for them to walk, to use their litter box or to just be happy little, little campers.”

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Of the. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), the House sponsor, said that once people learn what declawing is, it changes their perspective. “When people wrap their head around it, the idea that we would mutilate to protect a furniture item is abhorrent to people,” she said.

Several veterinarians tested in favor of the bill, but there were others who opposed it, arguing that it the procedure should not be banned because it is at times necessary.

Moira Cyphers, a lobbyist for the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, said declawing has waned over the last decade and has largely become a procedure of “last resort.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that the procedure only be performed “after exhausting other methods of controlling scratching behavior or if it has been determined that the cat’s claws present a human health risk.”

Cyphers said it should be up to a veterinarian to decide what is best for his or her patient. “The truth is that some cats may be better off [declawed] … than facing a 50 percent chance of death in a shelter,” she said.

But Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, argued that “there is no guarantee that any vet is upholding any of the standards,” of ethical behavior when it comes to declawing.

She said the Humane Society conducted an informal phone call survey asking if a veterinarian offered the procedures. Of the 30 who responded, 40 percent said they perform declaw surgeries for nonmedical reasons. “They are doing them for reasons including protecting furniture that are far below the level of a true need to amputate a cat’s toes,” Bevan-Dangel said.

She said even she was shocked by the response from animal lovers on social media. At best, one of the society’s Facebook pages would reach about 1,000 views. The post of a cat clawing a scratching post reached 11,000, she said.

Lawmakers were likewise flooded with residents’ thoughts, Kagan said.

“They were hearing from dozens and dozens and dozens of constituents really in support of protecting the cats,” she said.

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