TRENTON -- The state Assembly Monday voted to make New Jersey the first state in the nation to penalize veterinarians who declaw cats.
Under the proposal, onychetomy -- the medical term for declawing -- would be added to the list of criminal animal cruelty offenses.
The Assembly approved the measure by a vote of 43-10 with 12 abstentions. There was no floor debate on the bill.
It now moves to the Senate
"Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity," Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), the bill's sponsor said in a statement following the vote. "Many countries worldwide acknowledge the inhumane nature of declawing, which causes extreme pain to cats. It's time for New Jersey to join them."
Declawing is typically done to prevent cats from shredding furniture or other household property, or because a cat has not learned how to play properly. In rare cases, declawing is done for medical reasons, and in those cases the procedure would not violate the proposed law, according to the bill.
Some veterinarians have objected to the ban, saying the procedure has evolved in recent years to be less invasive. They also argue the ban may discourage adoptions.
"We are not pro-declaw, we are anti-euthanasia. People who adopt feral cats may choose not to - that is our primary concern," said Richard Alampi, executive director of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association.
Alampi said the surgical procedure and pain management strategies have vastly improved in the last 20 years, when extreme pain and behavior issues were associated with declawing.
"Laser surgery is now common and pain management has advanced dramatically. The reports are kittens are running around playing the next day," Alampi said.
Veterinarians who perform declaws and people who seek them out would face a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail. Violators would also face a civil penalty of $500 to $2,000, according to the bill, (A3899).
There are an estimated 85 million cats living as pets in family homes, and between 19 percent to 46 percent are declawed, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
The Assembly also approved another animal welfare bill -- one that creates a registry of convicted animal abusers and posts it on the state Department of Health website.
Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), the sponsor of the bill, said the registry is needed to prevent people with criminal records of animal abuse from becoming animal control officers, and to prevent pets from landing in the wrong homes.
"Someone who has been convicted of abusing an animal has no business working with animals. It's like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse," Bucco said in a statement after the vote.
"The registry can also be used by animal shelters to protect household pets from being adopted by someone with a history of abuse," continued Bucco. "Since the registry will be available to the public, it will serve as a great tool to prevent animal abusers from adopting pets."
The bill, (A3421) passed by a 69-0 vote and also heads to the Senate for action.