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New York becomes first state to outlaw declawing cats

ALBANY – New York has become the first state in the nation to ban the declawing of cats, a route taken by some people to stop their cats from destroying furniture.

The measure, which passed in June in both houses at the State Capitol, was signed into law Monday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Its provisions took effect immediately on Monday.

Though opposed by a veterinarian’s trade group, lawmakers gained the political steam necessary to pass a bill that had been stalled in Albany since 2015.

“It’s a wonderful day for the cats of the state and the people who love them,’’ Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat and sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, said in a written statement.

Cat declawing, known as an onychectomy, is already banned in some three dozen countries, as well as a number of cities in the United States, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver. Other states are considering similar laws to outlaw a practice advocates say is barbaric.

The new law carries a civil fine of up to $1,000 against any person who performs the procedure on a cat unless there is a specific “therapeutic purpose,’’ such as illness, infection or injury “that compromises the cat’s health,’’ according to the two-paragraph change to the state’s agriculture law.

“Therapeutic purpose does not include cosmetic or aesthetic reasons or reasons of convenience in keeping or handling the cat,’’ the new law states.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has reported that various studies have shown that destructive cat scratching accounts for as much as 42 percent of complaints about cat behavior. Additionally, some doctors recommend that certain people – the elderly, diabetics or those with immune-compromised health problems – get their cats declawed.

The new state law does not provide an exception to the declawing ban based on health conditions of a cat’s owner.

“If a person has an issue with a cat scratching, well, first of all, I’d advise them don’t get a cat because that is the very nature of a cat. But, secondly, there are ways to change cats’ behavior. Get scratching posts. There are vinyl sheathes that could be placed on the nails. And there’s many ways to address that behavior,’’ Rosenthal told her colleagues during a floor debate when the bill was passed in early June.

When one lawmaker pointed out to Rosenthal that humans make decisions about whether a cat is spayed and should be able to decide to declaw a cat, she replied, “They have nothing to do with each other. Declawing is barbaric, inhumane, guillotining … up to the first knuckle” that can leave permanent phantom pain for cats.

The New York State Veterinary Medical Society opposed the bill. In a memo to its members, the trade group said it believes veterinarians, who are licensed as medical professionals, “should be permitted to make a medical decision after direct consultation with a client and through examination of the patient and its home circumstances.”

“The decision to declaw is a medical decision, not a legislative decision, that should be made by the owners in consultation with a trained, licensed and state-supervised veterinarian operating within the appropriate standard of the practice,’’ the group said.

To perform an onychectomy, a vet amputates most or all of the distal phalanges, which are the animal’s end bones of its toes. Typically, the two front claws are removed though sometimes all four are amputated.

“Cat declawing is a brutal procedure similar to severing a human finger at the first knuckle and has lifelong ramifications for cats,’’ said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat and the bill’s Senate sponsor.

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