CITY HALL — A controversial veterinary procedure to clip the claws of feline paws can no longer be performed in Santa Monica after the City Council voted on Tuesday to ban the practice that animal rights advocates have described as amputation.
The ordinance, which will take effect 30 days after a second and final reading next month, will prohibit onychectomy — also known as declawing — and flexor tendonectomy from being performed on cats, a surgery that is likened to cutting off the last joint of all 10 human fingers.
Proponents of the ban have argued that declawing is not only physically painful, but leaves cats more vulnerable to abandonment and relinquishment because of the behavioral changes that take place following the procedure, including urinating and defecating outside of litter boxes and biting because clawing is no longer a viable defense mechanism.
But opponents of the ordinance similarly argue that taking away the option of declawing could also lead the cats to be abandoned by owners who feel they have no other option than to leave their pets at the animal shelter or euthanize them.
With a 6-1 vote, the council passed the ordinance on first reading, which is when a public hearing is held. Councilman Richard Bloom was the lone dissenting vote, believing that while declawing should be discouraged, taking away the option would lead to a far worse outcome for the cat.
“If those who state that the proposed ban would lead to the death of cats are correct then we will be complicit in that outcome,” Bloom said.
His proposed amendment to the ordinance that declawing be allowed only to prevent abandonment, relinquishment and euthanization after veterinarians counsel pet owners on alternatives was shot down. Another amendment that prohibits licensed medical professionals to package declawing with other surgeries was also denied. Councilman Bobby Shriver, who did vote for the ban, supported the amendments.
The ordinance comes just months before a new state law that would restrict cities from banning declawing goes into effect on Jan. 1. The only other California city with a ban is West Hollywood.
“This is a no-brainer for anyone who has a conscious,” Leah Allers, a Santa Monica resident, said.
Allers has a cat that was declawed by its previous owner, which crippled it to the point where the pet lost its balance. The cat jumped off a balcony and fell three stories because of its crippled paw, landing on its face. The cat suffered a fractured skull.
“It would not have happened if she had not been declawed,” Allers said.
The ban has been opposed by various veterinary professional groups, including the California Veterinary Medical Association.
Mark Nunez, a veterinarian and president of the association, said that he has performed one declaw procedure in the past two years and talks about half a dozen people out of the surgery every week.
“When someone comes to me with behavioral issues, I do not recommend declaw, I recommend other options,” he said.
He said there are certain situations where the pet owner cannot be talked out of declawing. Those are the cases where he fears the pet might otherwise lose its home or life.
“There are some people who truly love their cat and they believe if I can’t have this cat then no one can have this cat,” he said. “They choose euthanasia.”
Nunez said that pets can be legally euthanized even if they are healthy.
While various professional associations have opposed the ban, a group of local veterinarians are supportive.
Annie Harvilis, an Ocean Park resident and veterinarian, said she refuses to perform declawing on cats and often warns clients that the procedure could make the pets more likely to bite.
“Companion animals give us a neat form of unconditional love and the least we can do in return is protect them from inhumane treatment,” she said.