New Claws in New York Pet Statutes

When I was a kid, my buddy, Pearl, had a dog named Tai. She was a cocker spaniel and was the sweetest dog I ever met. Tai loved to play with us outside, but she was just as happy to sit on our laps to be petted while we watched movies.

Then Pearl’s sister got a cat named Sage. Sage did not like to play with us, nor did she like to sit on our laps or be petted. If I tried to pet Sage, she would scratch me. If I petted Tai, Sage would scratch me. If we were watching ‘Days of Our Lives’ and not paying any attention to the pets, Sage would scratch me.

When Sage was finally declawed, I was grateful. Plus, Pearl’s mom could stop buying Band-Aids in bulk.

Today, if there are kids in the State of New York who routinely shed blood like I did 35 years ago, they might not be so lucky. However, unlike Sage, there are many cats in New York who will be very lucky.

New York is looking to become the first state in the country to outright ban cat owners from declawing their pets. Last week, new state legislation was introduced in the State Senate and Assembly. Denver and Los Angeles, along with several other cities in California, have already put similar laws in place. Similarly, Germany, Israel, Switzerland, England, and around 40 other countries have also banned the practice of declawing cats.

While New Jersey, West Virginia and Rhode Island have introduced legislation proposing to ban declawing, New York hopes to be the first state to actually do so. “New York prides itself on being first,” said Linda Rosenthal, the bill’s sponsor in the state Assembly. “This will have a domino effect.”

The measure has garnered support from such animal rights groups as The Humane Society and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. On its website, PETA describes declawing as “a violent, invasive, painful, and unnecessary mutilation that involves 10 separate amputations – not just of cats’ nails but of their joints as well.” The statement goes on to say that, “Declawing is both painful and traumatic, and it has been outlawed in Germany and other parts of Europe as a form of cruelty.”

Like me years ago, who was on the receiving end of the claws, not everyone is in favor of the bill. The New York State Veterinary Medical Society (NYSVMS) and the American Veterinary Medical Association oppose the measure. Instead, these organizations feel the decision to declaw should be left to the cat’s veterinarian and its owner – an outright ban does not address every individual cat or family’s circumstances.

In its 2019 legislative agenda, the NYSVMS addressed declawing and said that the organization “opposes any legislation that would prohibit the procedure in New York State and erode the ability of a licensed veterinarian to practice his or her profession.” The position of the AVMA is that declawing should remain an option for cats if they are using their claws destructively or if a cat’s clawing presents an “above normal health risk for its owners.”

The proposed legislation does contain exceptions, though, if the declawing is for “therapeutic purposes,” such as an existing or recurring illness, infection, disease, injury or abnormal conditions in the claw that compromise the cat’s health.

Purrpatrators could face fines of up to $1,000 and apparently courts plan on issuing writs of habeas cor-puss to bring them to justice. I know, that last pun was a cat-astrophe.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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