Denver cat declawing ban moves forward with support of committee, cat

With no opposition from committee members, the declawing ban moved forward Wednesday morning. The full Denver City Council still needs to vote on it.
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Councilwoman Kendra Black and Councilman Jolon Clark’s cat Kit during a Denver City Council committee meeting on proposed legislation banning declawing, Oct. 25, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) city council; denver; colorado; denverite; cats; declawing; kevinjbeaty

Councilwoman Kendra Black and Councilman Jolon Clark's cat Kit listen to a presentation on declawing during a Denver City Council committee meeting, Oct. 25, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Councilman Jolon Clark doesn't have a vote on the Denver City Council's safety and housing committee, but he does have a cat. "Kit" spent the committee meeting on Clark's lap, quietly making the case for the declawing ban introduced by Councilwoman Kendra Black.

Clark said it takes about 45 seconds to trim Kit's claws, and she can play safely with his young kids and doesn't damage the furniture.

With no opposition from committee members, the declawing ban moved forward Wednesday morning. The full Denver City Council still needs to vote on it.

Members of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association oppose the idea of a ban, even though they said they also oppose the practice of declawing. Association President Will French said there are times when an owner will euthanize a cat if declawing is not an option, and that's something he wants to avoid at all costs.

President-elect Joy Fuhrman said whether or not to declaw a cat should be a private medical decision, similar to decisions parents might make about their children's care.

"This issue is about so much more than cats and their toes," she said. "There are significantly larger issues at play. This is about protecting medical decisions from government interference. ... If Denver City Council does not protect this right, what is the next right that will be taken away?"

That is not how cat advocates and other veterinarians see the issue.

"No piece of furniture is worth taking away an animal's ability to ambulate normally, just as you would not cut off a child's fingers for drawing on the wall," said Kirsten Butler, a veterinary technician who said she has lost out on job opportunities because she won't work at practices that do declawing.

Declawing involves the removal not just of the claw but of the outmost phalanx of the paw from which it grows. Opponents of the practice say it often leaves animals in lifelong pain and prone to other behavioral problems. A number of cities in California, including Los Angeles, have banned the practice, and relinquishments actually went down after the ban, according to officials there.

"It does not keep the cat in the home," said Suellen Scott, director of outreach for the Cat Care Society,in response to the most common defense of the practice. She fought back tears as she asked City Council to ban the practice. "We get cats relinquished every day because they've stopped using the litter box because they are in so much pain."

Sana Q. Hamelin, owner of the Denver Cat Company, said it's very hard to have declawed cats in the cat cafe because they are prone to biting and shy away from people, which in turn makes it hard for them to be adopted.

"Declawed cats are not happy cats, and people do not like to adopt unhappy cats," she said.

The ban would make it illegal to declaw a cat unless there was a medical necessity.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Health, which includes animal control and the Denver Animal Shelter, said in an email that the agency is neutral on the ban, though the shelter does not perform declawings itself. One issue with enforcement is that animal control officers are not veterinarians, making it hard for them to determine whether the medical necessity standard was met.

It's not entirely clear how the ban will be enforced. In Los Angeles, one vet received a warning after posting ad for the service, Black said. The Department of Environmental Health will work out those details if the ban passes the full council. This would be considered a "general offense," with a maximum fine of $999. General offenses can carry jail time as well, though the city does not expect to deploy that option.

In supporting the ban, Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech said the government regulation is necessary when private actors won't police themselves. If vets who performed declawing were censured or risked their veterinary license, regulation wouldn't be necessary, she said. That hasn't happened, though.

"We step in when the private sector or the communal agreement is not enough to protect all the members of society," she said as she predicted other Colorado cities would also consider bans. "... If the goal is that you don't want more lawmaking, then find a way to regulate yourselves."

One more thing:

"If anyone is really jealous of Councilman Clark's cat, please come down to Denver Animal Shelter and we can get you the cat of your dreams," said shelter Director Alice Nightengale.

Councilman Jolon Clark and his cat, Kit, share a moment during a Denver City Council committee meeting on proposed legislation banning declawing, Oct. 25, 2017. "My cat is my buddy," Clark said. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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