CONCORD — New Hampshire would become the second state in the nation to ban the declawing of cats except for medical reasons, under legislation fiercely debated Thursday by animal rights advocates and seasoned veterinarians.
State Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, said she has received more encouragement on this bill than any she has worked on over seven terms in the Legislature.
“Declawing is the equivalent of cutting off your fingers at the highest knuckle. It is painful,” Rogers said.
The California-based Paw Project has urged lawmakers across their nation to bring their states in line with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, New York state and 28 countries around the world that have banned the practice.
Dr. Jennifer Conrad, the organization’s founder, estimates one in four cats is declawed as part of a $1 billion-a-year business.
““I have had vets tell me it is their bread and butter, that they are making $75,000 to $80,000 a year and they aren’t going to stop doing it until it’s against the law,” said Conrad, a trained veterinarian.
HB 1387 would make it illegal to declaw a cat unless the procedure was “necessary in order to address the physical medical condition of the cat, such as an existing or recurring illness, infection, disease, injury, or abnormal condition in the claw that compromises the cat’s health.”
Leaders of the New Hampshire Veterinary Medicine Association said such claims about the frequency and consequences of declawing are overblown, and the Legislature should be careful not to over-regulate animal care.
“There are some instances where declawing is appropriate, but we try as veterinarians to not do the procedure as frequently as we did decades ago,” said Dr. Jane Barlow Roy, past president of the group.
“We think legislating veterinary medical practices is detrimental to our profession. This could become a slippery slope.”
While Barlow Roy said she hasn’t declawed a cat in five years, she said some clients insist their vets to do it.
“My goal is to preserve the human-animal bond, so if they say, ‘I am going to euthanize my cat as opposed to declawing it,’ then I will declaw it,” Barlow Roy said.
“We have been told if you aren’t going to do it, I will find somebody else.”
Veterinarian Barlow Roy said most owners declaw their cat only in the case of serious medical issues, such as tumors on the paw or severe ingrown nails that endanger the health of the animal.
“I haven’t met anybody in my experience who decides to get a cat declawed just for the sake of it,” said Angela Ferrari with Dog Owners of the Granite State that opposes the bill.
Dr. David Stowe, former owner of a seven-vet practice in Laconia, said he decided in the 1990s to use laser surgery for declawing because it caused the animal less pain.
“The vast majority do not declaw, but the majority are in favor of leaving it up to veterinarians,” Stowe said.
“Clearly the number is going down; it is nowhere near what it used to be.”
Julia Seeley, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said her agency backed the bill.
“It is an unnecessary surgery, most often performed to address convenience issues such as a problem scratching of household furniture, and it provides no medical benefit to the cat,” Seeley said.