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Documentary critiques cat declawing

BY MICHAEL KADRIE | MAY 07, 2015 5:00 AM

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Chances are when you bring your new kitten to its inaugural veterinarian visit, the people there will offer you a variety of potential services: neutering, vaccinations, and, perhaps, a declawing procedure.

Those worried about claws should consider attending the free showing of The Paw Project at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., at 7 p.m. today. A discussion with veterinarians will follow for those with any questions.

“[Declawing] alter[s] the animal forever, and it is unnecessary,” veterinarian Nicole Kogan said.

The procedure is the permanent removal of a feline’s claws by way of surgery.

Iowa City Animal Care technician Jen Read has seen plenty of declawed cats during her eight years working in animal shelters, including her current five-year tenure at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center.

“I don’t think there is any reason [to declaw] if there are other options,” she said.“Why take away the natural things cats do, [like] a nice stretch … if it’s conducive to life as a cat.”

Human nails grow from the nail root hidden under the cuticle or their skin. Cat nails grow directly from the bone, and so cutting them off is tantamount to severing a human's finger tips.

“Without [the] part of the toe [removed in declawing], the foot naturally curls … leaving the cat to walk literally on the tip of [its] bone,” veterinarian and Iowa Paw Project representative Jennifer Doll said. “Does every cat have problems? No, not at all; but many do.”

She said possible problems include immediate pain from the procedure, an increased tendency to bite, discomfort in using the litter box — leading them to potentially abandon it — arthritis in the joints, significant spine problems, poorly executed surgery causing painful internal nail regrowth, and a range of behavioral problems.

“I can only imagine cutting the tips of my fingers off and having to live with it for the rest of your life,” Read said.

Declawing is currently banned in dozens of countries, including Germany, England, and Italy.

Kogan said she was encouraged and expected to perform the surgery at her first job in private practice.

“There was a big push for [declawing], some vets will say, ‘At 4 months old, [the cat will] be ready for a rabies shot, neutering, and declawing; I’ll set that up for you,’” she said. “It’s just awful doing it … I felt pressured … you want to do what your bosses tell you.”

Both Doll and Kogan said a large number of pet owners they meet are not aware of the short- or long-term risks implicit in declawing.

“I feel like a lot of vets don’t divulge exactly [what the declawing procedure is],” Kogan said. “It’s kind of a dirty little secret no one ever talks about … because it’s really, really gory.”

All Iowa City veterinarians offering declawing services contacted by this reporter uniformly declined to comment.

Pet owners commonly cite a desire to protect furniture, flooring, and young children as their reason for seeking the surgical solution, Doll said. Often, the presence of claws could seem like an impediment to an animal finding a home.

“I was one of those vets who justified it by saying, ‘Well, if it will get this cat a home or help it keep a home I’ll do it,’ ” Doll said. “But when I moved to Iowa, I started working with shelters and rescues … and one common thing I saw was that a lot of declawed cats were coming in either as strays or for behavioral problems.”

Simple and affordable alternatives to surgery are readily available. However, they require more effort on the part of the cat’s owners, she said.

Soft Paws are plastic sheaths for the nails that remain on for up to a couple months before falling off, completely eliminating the dangers of scratching while engaged. Diligent nail trimming is another possibility, as is teaching cats to use specific items as a designated scratching posts.

As with any other invasive medical procedure, there are certain risks in declawing that are unavoidable.

“Even if you do the [declawing] surgery correctly … you can end up having abscesses at the tip of the toe, the bone will actually poke through, some of the [foot]pad is removed — sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Doll said.

The movie showing tonight is part of Doll’s efforts with the Paw Project to raise awareness of the issue and generally better inform the public.

“[Paw Project in Iowa] isn’t as interested in having the laws changed as much as having the public’s opinion changed,” she said.

Read said the Iowa City Adoption Center does its best not to let cats leave with people who will declaw them — going to great lengths to detail the unnecessary nature of the procedure. Still, every now and then, a cat will return to the shelter in exile, hobbling on butchered feet.

“I know the feeling of ‘I just don’t want this cat to have any fingernails,’ ” Doll said. “[Declawing is] such an easy little out for people, having their cat declawed … but that’s us, that’s normal people behavior.”


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