“Laws can’t change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” ~ Martin Luther King
After college, I moved from Madison, Wisconsin, where I was born, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Just before leaving, my boyfriend’s family cat disappeared and we visited the Madison animal shelter to see if she had been turned in. There I saw a beautiful young silver Persian male who was about to be euthanized. I promised to come back to get him. The next day, with my mother off on a trip, I took him to her house, where he promptly used her living room shag carpeting as a litter box.
At the time, it cost $4 to adopt a cat and the shelter had an arrangement with local vets for a health visit. One could return the cat if he was sick. So I took him to a vet who pronounced him “probably with a lifetime of pancreatic distress.” I took him along to New Orleans. He was aptly named Shadow because he followed me everywhere and needed to be close to me for the rest of his life. His “illness” was simply kennel distress that disappeared with love.
Shadow was the most beautiful and most precious cat of my entire life.
I had no valuable furniture or belongings, but in his second year, I had him neutered and declawed. Like most people, I thought declawing was just removing the nail like it would be if our nails were removed from the top of our fingers. (Of course, that in itself is a form of torture.)
Declawing is actually an amputation of the last digit of the toes on the paws. It mutilates the paws. The nail does not grow on top of the skin but out of bone that is amputated; it is like removing the last joint of one’s fingers with a cigar cutter.
Dr. Jennifer Conrad was working in Hollywood with large exotic animals a number of years ago. Often, big cats used in entertainment or otherwise subjected to human confinement have had their bones and claws amputated. She came across three mountain lions suffering severe mutilation of their feet, and one who walked on his elbows. One died of dehydration because he could not make it to water.
She found a shocking number of her cat patients had nails growing back in deformed splinters, causing pain and sending pus and infection into their bloodstreams. Conrad designed a delicate microsurgery to reconnect tendons so the cats could flex and function. She paid for the first eight restorative surgeries herself. She realized that thousands of big cats needed their paws repaired to give back some of their dignity and quality of life. She started an organization — The Paw Project — and donations started pouring in.
Then she thought of the 81 million domestic cats in the United States and the common practice of declawing. It is a very profitable veterinary procedure, requiring intensive medication to fight infection. It can cost $350 to $500 for a half-hour procedure that amputates 10 toes. Veterinarians often recommend declawing at the same time as neuter or spay — when the cats are 2 pounds and 10 weeks old. According to the Paw Project’s film, some vets profit as much as $75,000 a year just on declawing.
The results are devastating to the cat. Deprived of their main defense — their claws — they can become biters. Their feet are tender so they often avoid the litter box and use the area next to it. If their claws remain intact, they use them to play-fight, grasp, stretch, groom and knead. They need them to climb and for balance and defense.
Conrad realized that she could personally restore some function to only a small percentage of mutilated cats. She worked to try to ban the practice. The American Veterinary Association fought legislation that would ban the practice, presumably favoring veterinarians’ profits over the vets’ oath to prevent and relieve animal suffering. The association went to the California Legislature to promote a ban on banning the procedure statewide. They won that, but there was a loophole: It was several months before that legislation took effect. Conrad worked with her volunteers to move cities to institute bans before the deadline. Eight California cities banned declawing in 2013, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, before the ban on banning took effect. They joined 29 countries that have banned declawing, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Israel and New Zealand.
Shelter intake rates of cats decreased after the declawing ban went into effect in California. The rationale that declawing kept cats in their homes proved invalid.
There are a variety of cat trees, carpeted cubbies, and scratching posts that attract cats to help you save both your cat and your sofa. As one legislator said, “Take the claws out of the cat, you take the cat.”
You can watch the entire Paws Project movie here. Please forward it to your veterinarian and ask five people to watch the movie and save their cats.
Our own Ringling Brothers Circus, as it closes, is considering sending its big cats off to one of the biggest circuses in Germany to continue jumping through hoops for human entertainment. Please comment and sign this petition to send all Ringling circus animals to sanctuary and retirement.
The federal government is considering cutting the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which encompasses 1.5 million acres and was established by President Barack Obama. The formal public comment period ends July 10. Comments may be submitted here. You will see a “comment now” link in the upper right hand corner.
Originally published in the Madison CapTimes on June 18, 2017.