United States: NJ Bill Affecting Veterinarians, Cats, And Their Owners To Be Heard On Monday, November 14, 2016

Last Updated: November 16 2016
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

A bill (A3899) prohibiting veterinary declawing procedures in New Jersey will be considered by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, November 14, 2016.

This bill would create civil and criminal liabilities for any person who shall:

Perform, or cause to be performed, an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure on a cat or other animal in violation of section 1 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

As summarized in the bill statement:

This bill would prohibit a person from performing, or causing to be performed, an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure by any means on a cat or other animal, unless the procedure is deemed necessary for a therapeutic purpose by a licensed veterinarian. Any person who violates this provision would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both. A violator would also be subject to a civil penalty of between $500 and $2,000.

Section 1(a) contains the same language that was included in an ordinance banning this procedure that passed in West Hollywood on April 21, 2003.

1. (New section) a. No person shall perform, or cause to be performed, an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure by any means on a cat or other animal, unless the procedure is deemed necessary for a therapeutic purpose by a licensed veterinarian. A person who violates this provision shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

This ordinance was upheld in court as constitutional when challenged by veterinary associations. Veterinary Med. Ass'n v. City of W. Hollywood, 61 Cal. Rptr. 3d 318 (Cal. Ct. App. 2007).

Section 1(b) requiring veterinarians to "prepare and file a written statement with the Department of Health setting forth the purpose for performing the procedure and providing the name and address of the owner or keeper of the animal, and provide a copy of that statement to the owner of the animal" impermissibly restricts the veterinary license that is granted by the Division of Consumer Affairs, not the Department of Health. Furthermore, the disclosure of the names and addresses of pet owners and their veterinarian present a public safety and privacy concern, and violates the state law mandating that veterinarians provide for the confidentiality of all medical records. N.J.A.C. 13:44-4.9(b).

The sad fact is that there are cat owners who will give up their cats because they are destroying furniture who would otherwise keep them as pets if they had this procedure. Unlike dogs, there are too many cats in shelters, and living in feral populations, and this will only contribute to those numbers.

As reported in a literature review prepared by the AVMA's Animal Welfare Division, "Welfare Implications of Declawing of Domestic Cats," published on Feb. 16, 2016, the benefits of the procedure were discussed.

In some cases declawing may be an alternative to relinquishment, outdoor housing or euthanasia.For example, in a 1991 survey of Ontario veterinarians, respondents indicated that approximately 50% of their clients would no longer own their cat if it had not been declawed. Following aggression, a survey of veterinarians reported scratching as the behavioral problem most frequently associated with abandonment of cats in Brazil. Unacceptable behaviors such as daily scratching increase the risk of relinquishment of an animal to a shelter, and declawing decreased the risk of relinquishment. As approximately 72% of cats relinquished to animal shelters are euthanatized, owners may feel they are faced with the choice of declawing their pet cat or potentially condemning it to death. Because outdoor cats are exposed to predators, street traffic, inclement weather, and diseases (e.g., feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis), owners may not consider keeping a scratching cat outside to be a viable alternative. Thus declawing may sometimes be necessary to ensure that a pet cat keeps its home. (Citations omitted).

The article also reviews the risks, including welfare concerns related to this veterinary procedure.

Veterinarians cannot perform this surgery, or any other, without obtaining informed consent from their patient's owner.

The AVMA explains, in its position statement on this topic:

The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).

Anyone interested in testifying on Monday should attend the hearing at 2:00 pm in Committee Room 15, 4th floor, State House Annex in Trenton.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
 
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