- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LOS ANGELES | Cats scratch and dogs bark. Is declawing or debarking the answer?

Nearly 60 percent of American pet owners, including 55 percent of cat owners, say it is OK to have a cat declawed, but only 8 percent approve of having a dog’s vocal cords removed, according to an Associated Press-Petside.com poll.

Professionals say both surgeries are painful and alter the way the animals walk or talk.

Declawing a cat “is amputation. If you look at your fingers, declawing would be like amputating the last section of each finger. If you were declawed, you would have 10 little short fingers. It’s amputation times 10,” said veterinarian Louise Murray, vice president of the Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. The hospital is part of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Most veterinarians won’t do all four feet, because that is considered extremely inhumane and unsafe for the cat, she said.

Mary Sullivan, 84, of Chicago, said she had a cat declawed once because he kept slipping on slick floors in her apartment. “Shortly afterward, he died. He was in agony the whole time. It broke my heart that I had it done. I’d never do that again,” she said.

When she got Roger from Tails of Hope about seven years ago, a condition of the adoption was a ban on declawing.

She said the people at Tails of Hope showed her how to cover her furniture in case of a problem, but Roger, who is 14 now, doesn’t care about furniture.

“It’s not cruel to declaw your cats,” said Jennifer Soloway, 60, a retired judge in Sacramento. Her cats, including Willie, who just died at 14, and Nemo, who is 15, were declawed when they were young.

“They do not know they’ve been declawed. They made the same kneading movements. The recovery process was very short. They never showed any sign of pain,” she said.

Declawing was necessary, she said. “My little daughter had scratches all over her. Everyone in the family had scratches. They destroyed our wallpaper. It was the only solution we could come up with,” Mrs. Soloway said.

Dr. Murray said it’s hard to assess pain in cats. After surgery, they are “walking around on stumps with stitches” and if they dig around in their litter, they can be in a lot of pain.

The ASPCA opposes declawing, debarking, defanging, ear cropping and tail docking — any elective surgery to conform to breed standard or eliminate undesirable behavior — except in extreme circumstances. For example, the health of a cat owner may be at risk if the owner has an immune system disorder or illness that causes susceptibility to serious infection if scratched.

Ninety percent of pet owners oppose removing a dog’s vocal cords. Forty-seven percent would favor a law making the procedure illegal, while 44 percent would oppose a law.

In July, Massachusetts became the first state to ban elective “devocalization” surgeries for cats or dogs. Violations are punishable under the state’s animal cruelty laws. Virginia lawmakers are considering a similar measure.

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