Julie McDonald Commentary: Declawing Cats Continues to Be a Barbaric Practice

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I’m not a cat person. I never have been, probably in large part because I’m allergic to furry felines, or more accurately, their dander. We always owned dogs but never cats.

That is, until my teenage daughter begged us to let her adopt precocious brother and sister kittens from the Lewis County Animal Shelter. It was love at first sight.

I caved, despite my allergies. I simply took an antihistamine daily and learned to live with them in the family room (which also happens to be the one room in our house with air conditioning, but that’s another story).

The kittens were a godsend when my daughter’s childhood friend died in a tragic accident. For months, the only time I saw a smile cross my daughter’s face was when she watched her precious pussycats play.

The pair also frolicked outside, often catching field mice and voles, leaving their prizes on the deck for my husband to clean up.

When they swooped into the family room, they often paused at the corner of the couch to scratch, despite the cat tree in the corner.

Fast forward a few years and my daughter left for college. Her sophomore year, she moved into an apartment that allowed pets and took her cats with her. She also needed furniture, so we hauled the scratched-up hide-a-bed couch, our kitchen table and her bed to Pullman, which gave us an excuse to buy new furniture for the first time in decades.

We live in the country, so with Nora’s cats gone, we started to worry about field mice sneaking inside during winter. Nora wanted to give her dad a new cat for Father’s Day, so when she returned home this month, we ventured again to the Lewis County Animal Shelter. She and her dad visited first, and he said absolutely no kittens. So, when my daughter and I stopped, adorable as the kittens were, we walked into the room housing adult cats.

As The Chronicle reported last week, the shelter has been inundated with kittens and cats this year, primarily because pets picked up during the pandemic couldn’t be spayed or neutered with veterinary clinics closed. According to the article, the shelter had twice as many cats and kittens as in 2020 — jumping from 88 to 184 cats and from 113 to 205 kittens.

The day my daughter and I visited, a worker said employees from the Seattle Animal Shelter had recently picked up Lewis County felines because they didn’t have many strays in King County.

As we examined the cats, one precious black-and-white resembling a Holstein cow captured my attention. With permission, we released her from the cage. In a few short minutes, as we snapped photos on our phones, she won our hearts.

We signed the paperwork, paid the $75 fee, and agreed to pick her up from Cascade West Thursday, the day after she was spayed. I ordered the rabies and feline leukemia shots as well as flea treatment.

At home, we debated names for this kitty cat. My husband liked Domino, my daughter preferred Panda and I favored Pixel.

Nora returned to her job at Washington State University in Pullman, where she’s preparing for Cougar Marching Band camp and a new academic year, and I drove to Centralia Thursday with my sister-in-law, my husband’s twin sister from Colorado who surprised us with a visit. She and her husband have owned cats in the past, so they enjoyed petting our new I simply referred to as Pretty Kitty.

But they both noticed she didn’t have scratch.

“She’s been declawed,” my sister-in-law said.

What?

Sure enough, we couldn’t see claws, even when we pressed the center of her front paws. I Googled the procedure, horrified to discover that declawing cats entailed amputating the cat’s toes — like cutting off a human’s fingers at the first knuckle. Cat claws grow from the bone, so removing the claws requires major surgery to sever the bones, tendons, and nerves.

It’s barbaric.

Nail regrowth, bone fragments, inflammation and infection can cause lifelong excruciating pain. Some cats won’t use a litter box because it’s painful on their paws.

“Declawed cats may develop health problems such as infection, arthritis or lameness,” according to solutions.pawproject.org/ “Deprived of acting on their natural instinct to use their claws to climb, exercise and mark territory with the scent glands in their paws, they may undergo disturbing personality and behavioral changes, which lead to being abandoned or relinquished to a shelter.”

Israel, Switzerland, England and 39 other countries have made declawing illegal. The procedure is also banned in the state of New York, Denver, Colorado, and eight large California cities.

According to a May 2017 article in Popular Science, a study showed declawed cats have difficulty walking as they must tread on soft cartilage with the ends of their toes removed. Many also grow more aggressive after the surgery. The study found “declawed cats were seven times more likely to pee in inappropriate places, four times more likely to bite people, three times more likely to be aggressive, and three times more likely to overgroom themselves. In addition, the declawed cats were three times more likely to be diagnosed with back pain (possibly because they had to modify their gait due to their missing toe bones) and/or chronic pain in their paws.”

I called around to local clinics. Many don’t offer declawing, saying the doctors don’t believe in it. One said a doctor will declaw, but only after a client consultation and with the caveat that the cat remains hospitalized for three days to recover from the painful procedure. Another clinic quoted a cost of $330 to declaw the two front paws, the only ones they’d do. One woman who answered the phone at a local vet clinic said her five cats all used the cat tree for scratching. Rather than declawing a cat to prevent it from scratching furniture, people, or pets, she said, it’s better to simply keep the nails trimmed.

So, we brought home a cat without claws to kill mice.

I called the shelter and spoke with manager Jennifer Teitzel, who sounded amenable to working with us, although I signed paperwork that stated I adopted the cat “as is.”

“A lot that are generally brought in declawed are reclaimed by their owner but not always,” Teitzel said. “We do not recommend it.”

She mentioned an unfriendly cat at the shelter who isn’t fond of people but would make a terrific barn cat.

But I’d already grown fond of our furry female; I wanted to keep her. My husband preferred to exchange her for the mouser.

That night, as I worked on my laptop, Pretty Kitty jumped up and sprawled across my stomach, which created a bit of a challenge in reaching the keyboard. As she lay there, her front paws on my arm stretched and curled as she kneaded in contentment. I glanced down during one extension, a frown furrowing my brow, but then I jumped in joy. I spied claws! Her previous owner must have trimmed them, but they would grow back.

Now we simply need to settle on a name. Any suggestions?

•••

Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.

Comments

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LoreleiHickman

As a former veterinary technician, I was loving this commentary all the way up to the last paragraph, which I fear could be further confusing to a public that already has a tendency to confuse declawing with nail trimming. Cat claws do not grow back after declaw surgery- not in the way it sounds at the end of this article, anyway, as a full and normal set of claws. Sometimes- often, in fact- one or more claws will grow back beneath the cat's skin because all the germinal cells from which the claw grows were not cleanly removed during the surgery. This is a painful condition akin to walking with a sharp pebble in your shoe, and sometimes the claw will break through the skin, causing an open wound, and sometimes it will continue to coil and grow longer underneath the skin, causing a lump and/or an infection. This is just one of the many painful conditions that commonly afflict cats who have been declawed. This procedure needs to be banned everywhere and condemned as the animal cruelty that it is, because the veterinary profession is not regulating itself on this issue and that is why I left. But there's a big difference between trimmed claws and amputated toes, and it's perhaps sadly telling that even an obviously educated person writing a commentary about how bad declawing is can't seem to tell the difference, because the pet-owning public has been kept so utterly in the dark about this for so long.

Friday, August 20