(CN) – New York became the first U.S. state Monday to ban the declawing of cats, marking a victory for animal rights advocates who say the procedure is severely painful and more about protecting couches instead of pets.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on Monday, joining several European nations, Australia, New Zealand and Japan in banning declawing, or onychectomy. The new law will impose civil penalties on those who use the procedure, which amputates the end bones of a cat’s toes.
“Declawing is a cruel and painful procedure that can create physical and behavioral problems for helpless animals, and today it stops,” Cuomo said in prepared remarks. “By banning this archaic practice, we will ensure that animals are no longer subjected to these inhumane and unnecessary procedures.”
Many countries view the procedure as unethical, not only because of the associated pain. Advocates for ending the practice say cats need their claws to groom, for their psychological well-being and to climb and flee from danger. Declawing may also lead to joint and back pain as well as early onset of arthritis.
Amending the state’s agriculture and markets law, the anti-declawing bill passed the New York Assembly and Senate last month.
Cuomo’s signature makes New York the first state to impose an outright ban on the procedure. The new law calls for fines up to $1,000 for violations.
Jennifer Conrad is a veterinarian and founder and director of the Paw Project, which is pushing for declawing bans across the country. She said vets should not be intervening in a behavioral issue, and argued the procedure should be called “deknuckling” instead of declawing.
“This cat protection legislation is important because it is the first state in the union to recognize that declawing is inhumane and has absolutely no benefit for the cat, and we’re hoping New York will lead the way for other states,” Conrad said in a phone interview. “No veterinarian ever went to vet school to protect couches. We went to school to protect pets.”
The legislation bans declawing except in cases where a cat is suffering from a recurring illness or infection, injury, or abnormal condition that would endanger the animal’s health. The exception does not extend to cosmetic or aesthetic concerns or for the “convenience in keeping or handling the cat,” according to the bill’s text.
Many vets in the state supported the bill but some were opposed. Three years ago, the New York State Veterinary Medical Society filed an opposing memorandum arguing that if the bill became law, more cats would be euthanized.
“Clawing and scratching can be highly dangerous and detrimental to families with immune-compromised members or family members with other health issues; as such, declawing is one method to allow a beloved feline companion to continue to live in a household rather than relinquishing the family pet to a shelter,” the October 2016 memo states.
Conrad said that some vet groups see declawing as necessary to keep cats in their homes. She said the argument is not supported by evidence and that cats are more likely to start biting or exhibit other negative behaviors if they are stripped of their claws.
“Declawed cats end up in the pound in inordinate numbers. It doesn’t keep them in the home,” Conrad said.
Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver have adopted declawing bans. New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, West Virginia are also considering legislation that would end the procedure, according to the Paw Project.
Legislators in California killed a similar bill earlier this year, Conrad said.