This story was written by Ithaca Voice intern Christopher Hanna, a Cornell University student.

ITHACA, NY – A bill that would make New York the first state to ban the declawing of cats has sparked mixed local reactions.

Local activists have vigorously lobbied for the legislation, arguing that the declawing procedure is cruel and inhumane.

Animal welfare organizations ranging from the CNY Cat Coalition to the Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse have endorsed the proposed ban.

Experts on both sides of the issue make the exact same claim: that if their perspective on the issue is hampered by lawmakers, more cats will end up euthanized and in shelters.

“Declawing is the equivalent of amputating the last digit of a cat’s toes, and leaves cats with lasting physical pain,” said Martha Sullivan. Sullivan is the vice president of Animal Rights Advocates of Upstate NY, an organization that has joined the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to declawing.

Photo courtesy of Vladimir Pustovit on Flickr.
Photo courtesy of Vladimir Pustovit on Flickr.

New York’s Veterinary Medical Society has instead come out against prohibition, arguing that the decision to declaw should be left to pet owners and their veterinarians. It has also suggested that if declawing is outlawed, destructive cats will be euthanized or relinquished to shelters at higher rates.

Brian Shapiro, the New York State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, says that these arguments are unfactual and amount to “fear-mongering.”

“In California, communities that have declaw bans have seen decreases in the overall surrenders of unwanted cats to shelters,” said Shapiro. He stated that declawed cats often engage in dangerous biting behaviors that cause their pet owners to relinquish them to shelters, noting that 50 animal rescue organizations have endorsed the statewide ban.

Shapiro insisted that the state’s Veterinary Medical Society opposes the ban because declawing is “an old school practice that is essentially ingrained in veterinary culture.” He added that there is growing momentum in favor of a ban, with 133 veterinarians in New York—many of them young alumni of Cornell’s veterinary school—having announced support for the pending legislation.

Bruce Kornreich, the associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, said that declawing is a legitimate medical procedure that should be used as a last resort for destructive cats.

“Declawing shouldn’t be the first or even the second option, but it is the best option if everything else has been tried,” said Kornreich. He noted that veterinarians have a professional duty to educate pet owners about non-surgical alternatives to managing cats’ scratching behaviors, some of which are offered by the SPCA of Tompkins County.

Though he declined to comment on the pending legislation, Kornreich pushed back against activists’ claim that declawing is painful and unsafe.

“It might cause some degree of discomfort, but that is expected of all surgical procedures,” said Kornreich. He said that the vast majority of declawed cats recover from post-operative complications.

Though no vote for the bill has been scheduled, it gained major momentum in early May when Senator Joseph Griffo (R) joined Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D) in a bipartisan push to secure the passage of the legislation.