TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers are poised to vote on controversial legislation that would make it illegal for veterinarians to declaw cats except for select purposes.
Assembly Bill 3899 is one of two animal-related bills scheduled to be voted on by the full Assembly during its Monday afternoon voting session. The second bill would require the state Department of Health to create and maintain an online registry of people convicted of animal cruelty.
Both bills were sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and have been applauded by animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States.
The procedure involves amputating portions of a cat's paws and is typically performed because the animal is destructive to furniture or other property.
Under Singleton's bill, veterinarians who declaw cats for any reason other than because it's deemed necessary for a medical condition that compromises the animal’s health could face a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail, plus a potential civil penalty of between $500 and $2,000.
Supporters say the restriction would put an end to what they describe as a cruel, painful and unnecessary practice.
Britain, Australia and several cities in California already ban the practice.
"Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity,” Singleton said in a November statement after the legislation advanced out of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
“Many countries worldwide acknowledge the inhumane nature of declawing, which causes extreme pain to cats. It’s time for New Jersey to join them," he said.
But the New Jersey Veterinary Association opposes the proposed ban, arguing that veterinarians should be allowed to perform the procedure as a last-ditch resort to prevent owners from surrendering their cats to shelters, where they are frequently euthanized.
"We are not pro-declaw; we are anti-euthanizing," said Michael Yurkus, a Middletown veterinarian and association member, during the November hearing. "We want to promote keeping cats in loving households and not having them euthanized."
The animal registry bill has generated less debate. The registry would be online and include the full name and an available photograph of any person found guilty of animal cruelty in the state.
Singleton has said the registry would act as a deterrent against animal abuse, and would also help animal organizations screen prospective employees or individuals looking to adopt animals.
The legislation would also work in concert with another bill Singleton penned that would allow judges to prohibit people convicted of animal abuse crimes from owning pets or from working or volunteering in jobs requiring direct interaction with animals, including veterinary offices, dog training centers, rescue groups, kennels or groomers. That measure was approved by the Assembly last month but is pending in the Senate.