A newly passed Denver ordinance that bans elective cat declawing has ignited passions — including among cat owners and veterinarians.
But the choice was easy for the City Council on Monday night when it made Denver the first U.S. city outside California to ban a procedure that critics see as inhumane and painful to the felines.
The council lined up strongly behind the measure in recent weeks, and the approval came in a unanimous vote, with no fresh comments.
“I think the proponents made a compelling case,” said Councilwoman Kendra Black, who spearheaded the proposal, after the vote.
A week earlier, an hour-long public hearing featured several emotional appeals, with most pushing for the council to take a stand against declawing.
The procedure isn’t as simple as it sounds, critics say, noting that it requires several partial toe amputations.
“Having run anesthesia on declaw procedures, I can tell you it is an awkward and disheartening feeling to keep something alive while it is mutilated in front of you,” said Kirsten Butler, a veterinary technician in Denver, during the Nov. 6 hearing.
She described postoperation care that was “equally as awkward,” as cats shook off blood-soaked bandages while they endured pain and disorientation after “having waken up missing a third of the digits they went to sleep with.”
Butler said she has chosen not to help with declawings anymore.
But as the council considered the ordinance, it has been met with pushback.
Some cat owners objected to it, saying the pain they observe in their pets is temporary. They credit the procedure for improvements in their cats’ indoor behavior, with less scratching of furniture and home interiors.
The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, meanwhile, opposed Denver’s measure because it would interfere with delicate decisions that the group’s leaders said should be left to medical professionals and cat owners.
At the same time, the devotion of time to the matter has drawn scorn from some corners, even as Denver’s consideration has drawn national attention. Critics including developer Kyle Zeppelin say the issue distracts from more pressing issues in Denver, such as the affordable housing crunch.
We’re nowhere on affordable housing and urban transit and this is what Council is occupied with? http://www.depepiart.com/5iqgARAMK5
— kyle zeppelin (@kylezeppelin) October 26, 2017
But Black and other council members cited animal welfare as their motivation and made no apologies for focusing on the issue. Councilman Jolon Clark even held his family’s cat on his lap during a committee hearing.
Denver’s new ordinance provides an exemption when a declawing procedure is deemed to be medically necessary and only if it’s performed by a licensed veterinarian who uses anesthesia.
As the procedure has drawn more controversy, it has become less popular in recent decades. But some cat owners still favor it.
Casara Andre told the council last week that while she opposes declawing as a routine procedure, it can be performed in a way that leaves the pet pain-free and improves the pet-family bond. She argued against taking the option off the table.
“A decision to declaw a cat is affected by many human and animal factors,” said Andre, a practicing veterinarian. “The well-being of the animal and their human family is best defended by providing owners with education about alternatives to declawing, appropriate training for family cats, and well-informed discussions between that pet owner and their veterinary medicine provider.”
Eight California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have passed prohibitions of elective declawing since 2003. Bans also are common in other countries, including Australia, Israel, Brazil, Japan and across much of Europe.
The driver behind Denver’s ban was veterinarian Aubrey Lavizzo, the local leader of the Paw Project, who persuaded Black to push for it.
Some animal advocates worried that making declawing unavailable in Denver would result in exasperated owners returning cats if they couldn’t control the scratching. Backers of bans in California, however, point to statistics in those cities that show no spikes in cat intakes at shelters.
Jennifer Conrad, who pushed for the first U.S. declawing ban more than a decade ago, in West Hollywood, founded the Paw Project. She testified before Denver’s council last week.
She said removing cats’ claws takes away their natural defense, leaving them less confident and having to withstand “a lifetime of pain,” a contention disputed by some cat owners.
“Our experience in California was very interesting,” Conrad said. “We found that if we looked at the numbers of cats who were relinquished five years before — versus five years after — the ban went into existence, we found there was a decrease in the number of cats relinquished,” including by 43 percent in Los Angeles.
The ban, which covers procedures called onychectomies and tendonectomies, applies only within city limits — leaving suburban veterinarians free to offer elective declawings to Denver pet owners.