TRENTON — New Jersey is on its way to becoming the first state in the country to ban veterinarians from declawing cats.
A bill that cleared an Assembly committee on Monday would add onychetomy — the medical term for declawing — to the list of criminal animal cruelty offenses. There would be exceptions for medical purposes.
Veterinarians caught declawing a cat 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).
The procedure is typically done to prevent cats from shredding furniture or other household property, or because a cat has not learned how to play properly.
Many animal welfare organizations oppose the practice because they say it is painful procedure — akin to cutting off the top part of a finger. Some animals experience personality changes and discomfort using litter boxes, the bill's supporters told the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Nicole Feddersen, medical director for the Monmouth County SPCA, called it an "invasive surgery," that puts cats "at risk for pain and lameness. A cat still has urge to scratch but cannot."
Middletown veterinarian Michael Yurkus, a member of the New Jersey Veterinary Association, said the medical procedure has become less invasive in the last 20 years.
"Only the claw bed is removed, he said. "We do not cut bone, and the pain medicine that is available today was not available" decades ago, Yurkus said.
"We are not pro-declaw, but we want to prevent them from being relinquished" and eventually euthanized, he said. "We feel this is between a licensed vet and the client, and should not be regulated by the government."
The committee ultimately approved the bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington).
"Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity," according to Singleton's statement after the hearing. "Many countries worldwide acknowledge the inhumane nature of declawing, which causes extreme pain to cats. It's time for New Jersey to join them."
Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex) voted against the bill based on his family's experience with their feline, whose claws inflicted $600 worth of damage to their home.
"It was either getting declawed or going back to the shelter," where it would likely be euthanized, Space said.