California cities scratch out declawing of cats

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Don’t have your cat declawed in San Francisco, or West Hollywood, or you could face fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail. This month, the city by the bay became the first major metro area in California to outlaw the veterinary procedure, and was soon joined by Santa Monica, Berkeley and Beverly Hills. Los Angeles is expected to enact the ban next week.

"It’s a form of animal cruelty," San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a major supporter of the ban, tells "It would be unconscionable to ignore that fact."

The San Francisco board of supervisors voted 9-2 to enact the ban, which would prohibit anyone in the city from declawing cats and penalize consenting pet owners. "It’s a form of amputation and would render the cat defenseless if it were attacked," says Mirkarimi, who has owned rescue animals in the past.

Instead, anti-declawing advocates encourage owners to provide scratching posts as an alternative to declawing their cats to protect their furniture or have a professional groomer dull the claws. West Hollywood has had a declawing ban on its books since 2003. The practice is banned in a slew of other countries, including the U.K. and Australia.

The recent flurry of local ordinances have been opposed by the California Veterinary Medical Association, which argues that pet owners and their vets should determine declawing.

"Veterinarians must be allowed to make qualified medical decisions in consultation with their clients and upon a proper exam and understanding of the pet’s home environment," the association said in a statement. "This is the only way to provide the best course of treatment and assist the owner in making the best decision for their family pet. That may include removing a cat’s claws in a humane manner with proper pain management to prevent that animal from being abandoned at a shelter, tossed out on the street or euthanized."

One of the dissenting Bay Area supervisors, Michela Alto-Pier, told the San Francisco Examiner that the board was overreaching its charge and should stray from such medical decisions.

But Mirkarimi says the law does have a medical necessity clause to protect the cat, adding that the California state legislature forced municipalities to act after the state passed a new statute to restrict cities from regulating veterinary medicine and medical procedures after Jan. 1, 2010. "They hijacked our authority and forced our hand," he says.