Austin considering citywide ban on cat declawing procedures

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Animal Advisory Commission is hearing from the public Monday evening to see if there should be a citywide ban on declawing cats.

A draft of the proposed bill prohibits veterinarians within the city of Austin from performing declawing surgeries unless they’re necessary for medical reasons.

Katrina Breitreiter, veterinarian and owner of South Austin Cat Hospital, said, “We’re such an animal-loving city. We’re such a pet-friendly town that this really fits with Austin’s culture of progressive animal welfare.”

She said Austin is the first city in Texas to consider outlawing declawing procedures, which she said can cause long-term damage to a cat’s paws and cause lifelong pain.

According to Bretreiter, “63 percent of declawed cats actually had bone fragments in their toes left behind at the time of the declaw procedure. That is essentially like walking with a pebble in your shoe.”

“It breaks my heart. It really does,” Bretreiter said. “Because, you know, not only are these cats living in pain, but it was their doctors that caused the pain. As a veterinarian, we take an oath to cause no harm, and to alleviate pain, so to declaw in a way breaks the veterinarian’s oath.”

In Austin, KXAN found a couple veterinarians who perform laser surgeries. 

“It’s definitely a controversial procedure. It’s one we don’t take lightly,” said Dr. Ian Voelzel, medical director at Westlake Animal Hospital. He explained the laser surgery has “been shown to be least invasive, least painful technique to do it.”

Voelzel said declawing isn’t common. He sees thousands of pets every year and does only about 25 to 35 declaws annually. 

“It’s definitely not a first choice,” he said. “If a client came in for an annual exam, for their vaccines, and they were saying my cat’s been scratching up my couch, I wouldn’t even bring up declawing.”

Alternatives to declawing can include providing a cat with a scratching post, training your cat or placing double-sided tape on a piece of cardboard and covering the furniture you want to protect. Bretreiter said cats do not like sticky surfaces. 

When asked about the city’s attempt to ban, Voelzel said: “I think it should be something that’s between the veterinarian and the owner, and not something that’s decided by the government.”

In an update, the Animal Advisory Commission voted Monday night to approve the ban. Now, the proposal will go to the Health Human Services Committee and, only after that, be presented for a vote to the full City Council.

Adoption impacts

In California, Los Angeles passed a similar bill in 2009. According to the city’s mayor, the anti-declawing law didn’t lead to more cats being surrendered to shelters.

Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote back in March, there were 26,942 owner-surrender cats 5 years before the ban went into effect. Five years after the ban, the owner-surrender number was 15,276. 

In Austin, Austin Pets Alive says declawing actually makes it more difficult to re-home a cat.

The nonprofit said so far this year, it took in 38 declawed cats. Twenty-seven of them have been adopted, but they stayed in the shelter longer than other cats.

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