California town bans vets from declawing cats

Cat scratch fever? Too bad -- live with it!

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2003

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Saying it hoped to send a message to other communities, the City Council unanimously approved a measure that bans the declawing of cats.

''We would just encourage our neighboring cities to follow our lead,'' Councilman John Duran said Monday night after the council's 5-0 vote.

West Hollywood, a city of 3,500 people surrounded by Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, already has a law on the books designating its residents as pet guardians rather than pet owners.

Although cat declawing is banned in several European nations, animal advocates said they know of no such restrictions in the United States.

''Precedence is so important since other cities such as San Francisco and Berkeley are interested in having the same law,'' said Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian who founded Santa Monica-based Paw Project, a group dedicated to raising public awareness about the issue.

The declawing ban will affect all three of the city's veterinary clinics. It takes effect in 30 days.

Only one person spoke against the ban, which was proposed by Duran. Veterinarian Peter Weinstein of the California Veterinary Medical Association noted that declawed cats must always stay indoors.

''I think sometimes it's more cruel to let a cat outside into a community or an environment where they could become the victim of a car or a coyote,'' he said.

The procedure, known as onychectomy, costs $100 to $300 and removes the first joint of each toe in a cat's paw. It's normally done to keep cats from scratching people and furniture.

Assemblyman Paul Koretz, a Democrat and former West Hollywood mayor, backs a bill that would apply the ban statewide.

He wants to ban the practice not only for house cats, but for larger felines as well. The 4,800-member California Veterinary Medical Association opposes the bill, saying it could prompt some owners to abandon their pets.

The state's film industry also is concerned, fearing a ban on declawing big cats would make movie sets more dangerous and costly.

The veterinarians say only about 5 percent of California cats are declawed, while Koretz said it may be as high as 20 percent.

Some veterinarians who favor declawing say cat owners who are diabetic or whose immune systems are weakened fear being scratched. Other pet advocates say cats are turned in to local pounds because they scratch.

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