The Battle to Stop Declawing

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The word “dogged” describes cat champion Dr. Jennifer Conrad perfectly. She is the founder and director of The Paw Project, which educates the public about why declawing cats is inhumane, with the goal of getting this painful surgery banned completely in the United States and Canada. And while there is a long way to go, she is getting it done.

We met some years ago at the Algonquin Hotel in New York when we both were there for resident hotel cat Hamlet’s charity party. This reserved woman’s lovely smile and social veil belied her impressive resume and amazing achievements to protect cats from this mutilating surgery, often done for no other reason than to preserve the family couch and drapes.

In a world where activism tends to be loud, in your face and, often, disrespectful, Dr. Conrad is, like a typical cat, patiently watching and observing, with an innate sense of the right time to pounce and lobby for her cause — politely. Even on The Paw Project website, she urges cat owners to ensure the vet of their choice doesn’t declaw and not to be afraid to decline being a patient with a polite “No, thank you.”

What is Declawing?

Declawing is a surgical procedure, sometimes inaccurately termed “onychectomy,” which means “removal of the nail.” In reality, the animal’s toes are amputated at the last joint, which is the only way to remove the nail (claw) that grows from deep within the toe bone. Most people do not realize that bone — not only the nail — is removed. While some felines will have immediate complications from the procedure, it may be many months or years before the damaging effects of declawing become obvious. Declawing may result in permanent lameness, arthritis and other longterm physical and behavioral complications.

Big Cats, Little Cats

As a newly qualified veterinarian in 1999, Dr. Conrad was working with big cats at an animal sanctuary in California, which was home to lions and tigers that had been previously kept as pets and whose former owners had had them declawed as cubs believing it would protect them from injury.

Dr. Conrad started The Paw Project out of necessity. She explains, “I couldn’t believe the horrible outcomes I was seeing from declawing. I felt something must be done to help these animals. I had 40 big cat patients who were all suffering in different degrees from the unnecessary and harmful amputation procedure.”

She tells the story of a young mountain lion named Kona, who was crippled from declawing. “He could barely walk,” she says. “We started performing repair surgeries on these cats and were astounded by how much better they became. Kona could walk again after his surgery. It was miraculous.”

Dr. Conrad knew that what was happening to big cats was also being done on a large scale to domestic cats, too. She believed it had to be stopped.

Legal Matters

A meeting Dr. Conrad had with Hernan Molina, deputy to the then mayor of the city of West Hollywood, John Duran, who was visiting her at work, changed everything.

She had to take the bandages off a lioness whose paws had been repaired a few days before. Dr. Conrad recalls, “She didn’t want me to take the green wraps off her feet. I think it was because she woke up from surgery and her paws felt so much better that she liked her ‘protective shoes.’ It was then that I turned to Mr. Molina and asked, ‘Can we just make declawing illegal in West Hollywood?’”

And, in 2003, West Hollywood became the first city to ban declawing in the United States. Bans in the California cities of Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Francisco, Burbank, Santa Monica, Culver City and Beverly Hills followed.

“Our goal is to educate the cat-loving public and make them aware that declawing is simply bad for cats, bad for the cat’s people and bad for the cat’s veterinarians,” Dr. Conrad says. “No one wins from a surgery that causes cats permanent damage and pain, causes cats to avoid the litter box and begin to bite, or makes people give up their beloved cats, now declawed and suffering, to shelters or for euthanasia.”

Expand the Ban

In 2017, Paw Project Director Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo successfully got a ban passed in Denver, Colorado. And then a ban to end declawing in Nova Scotia, Canada, precipitated six other Canadian provinces to enforce declawing bans, too. Dr. Conrad lobbied on, and in 2019 Linda B. Rosenthal, a New York Assemblywoman, got the entire state of New York to stop declawing. That was a real coup for Dr. Conrad and The Paw Project. Later that year, St. Louis, Missouri, also passed a municipal ban.

“We are now sponsoring bans in multiple states such as Massachusetts, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois, as well as the Canadian province of Ontario,” Dr. Conrad confirms.

She shares that the best thing that happened in 2020 was that VCA and Banfield, two of the largest veterinary chains in North America, decided to stop declawing. This brought 2,000- plus hospitals and 10,000-plus veterinarians on board this cause.

“I am grateful to them for taking the time to listen to me and that they chose to do the right thing,” she says. “Now that the industry standard is changing, organizations like the American Association of Feline Practitioners feel more comfortable changing and refusing to endorse ‘feline-friendly’ veterinary practices that continue to declaw.”

No Big Cats Hurt In This Film

When not lobbying the goals of The Paw Project and adding to her legislative milestones assisted by a now-growing team of volunteers and veterinarians, Dr. Conrad still gets to work with big cats by providing veterinary assistance on demand on movie sets. Big cats like the tigers that starred in the Life of Pi and The Hangover have experienced her hands-on love, care and attention.


#pawsforthiscause – So What Can You Do?

  1. The Paw Project’s informative documentary The Paw Project Movie (pawprojectmovie.com), streams free on many platforms, including Amazon Prime. Let teachers know it is available for screening in the classroom. Check out teachwithmovies.org for lesson plan ideas.
  2. Call vet clinics in your area. Are they pro-declaw? Anti-declaw? Let The Paw Project team know for its list of veterinarians and vet clinics that will not declaw. Write to info@pawproject.org.
  3. Help with further legislation by educating lawmakers in your area and developing relationships with them. Familiarize yourself with the existing laws and scientific evidence regarding declawing at The Paw Project website’s Legislative News and AntiDeclawing FAQs website pages (pawproject.org).
  4. Donate to help fund repair surgeries for cats who are badly maimed so that they can comfortably walk again.

17 thoughts on “The Battle to Stop Declawing”

  1. Shirley Joy Swaine

    The whole procedure of elective declawing is a criminal offence in developed countries except USA and Canada.

  2. Shirley Joy Swaine

    If you rent through an agency, ask to speak to the owner directly. I’m a UK landlord (NO cats in the UK are, or ever have been, electively declawed, it is a criminal offence) and I allow cats and other pets, but not dogs because of the serious damage that was done to the property i.e. the walls, doors and door surrounds, by the bored dog of the previous owner raking at them. When I put the property into the hands of an agent, I said “No dogs” and she said “I’ll put ‘No pets’” and I had to be quite firm, pointing out I hadn’t said ‘no pets’ I said ‘no dogs’ (there is also the issue of noise with dogs and it’s a purpose built flat) but still, when I got the copy of the tenant agreement, she had put ‘no pets’. There are numerous videos on YouTube of the serious damage a bored or anxious dog can do, don’t just accept this horrific insistence of no cats with claws, ask to speak to the owner – and you can point out that the USA and Canada are the only developed countries that allow this mutilation.

  3. Since shelters always have numerous cats who have been declawed you are not ever going to have to have that problem, until the requirement is banned everywhere. It’s wonderful that you are giving these special needs cats a loving home. Just please be aware of their needs, have their paws and spines x rays by a non-declawing vet, and if their feet need repair contact the Paw Project to find a vet skilled in this highly specialized surgery.

  4. There are always going to be declawed cats in shelters, at least, for many many years to come, and they need good loving caring homes, just make sure you understand their special needs. Declawing does cause lifetime pain and crippling, even if the cat doesn’t show it. I’m glad you adopt them that way instead of causing yet another cat to be mutilated and subject to lifetime pain.

  5. As stated in the article, to “declaw” a cat, the entire toe digit has to be amputated. The cat’s claw grows out of bone. The bone, tendons, nerves, ligaments all have to be amputated along with the claw. 10 amputations for a “front declaw” And this is the toe digit the cat walks on. 60% of the cat’s weight is borne by those toes, when they are amputated the cat has to walk on a bone that was never meant to bear weight, and the bone is not supported by anything. For the rest of the cat’s life he is crippled.

  6. James Jensvold

    it’s time to educate the landlords and Paw Project can help. BTW, landlord-mandated declawing is illegal in California and Rhode Island

  7. James Jensvold

    No, the claw grows from inside of the bone of the third phalanx, so all or most of the bone must be removed to remove the claw

  8. I’ve had some one tell me that not everyone that declaws do so by cutting part of the toe off. That some declaw by pulling the claw out of the bone. Is this true that they don’t have to cut the last joint off? I’ve never heard of the this but then I could just not heard of it.

  9. kevin g roberts

    who cares about the landlord move elsewhere so you dont have to have tortured cats as pets just for your pleasure

  10. kevin g roberts

    just wondering if you could try and get killing and torturing cats and dogs illegal no matter what age throw them in the slam for about5 years min sentance,or let one of the parents take the place which is prolly a better idea,i jear alot of younger people say they hate cats and they said they will shoot,torture or just do something mean to them ,WTF? is wrong with people ,do people raise the kids to hate cats????

  11. I don’t have a balcony. I had Phoebe for 10 years and she never urinated anywhere but the box. I’ve had Buddy 5 years with no urination problems. I hope I can keep finding declawed cats in the shelters. I’m only allowed one cat at a time.

  12. Have you tried catio inside the apartment or put the catio in balcony? Only let the cat out when you are around, i.e. under supervision. I have been told declawed cats have other issue such as urinating everywhere.

  13. What about those of us who rent? I’m not allowed to own a cat with claws. Luckily, I’ve never had to have one declawed, I’ve been able to find 2 in the shelters.

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