School children in Brooklyn interact with Rubio, who is a poster cat for The Paw Project, an advocacy organisation against feline declawing. Photo / AP

is planning to ban the practice of declawing cats, sparking a debate about whether the procedure is inhumane or should be kept as a last resort for troublesome felines.
If the legislation is passed, it would make New York the first state to outlaw surgery that essentially amounts to amputating a cat’s toes back to the first knuckle.
“None of us love the procedure,” said Richard Goldstein, a veterinarian at New York City’s Animal Medical Centre. “But when the alternative is condemning the cat to a shelter or to death? That’s why we do it.”
The state and national veterinary organisations that say they oppose a ban on declawing do so because it’s often the only way for cats with behavioural problems to keep from being abandoned or put down, they say. Such medical decisions should be left to the professionals and cat owners, not politicians, they add.

Jenner Conrad, a California vet who travelled to the state capital Albany this past week to lobby for the proposed ban, said: “It’s amputation. It is the equivalent of taking a cigar cutter and cutting the end joint off”.Unlike human nails, a cat’s claws are attached to bone, so declawing a feline requires a veterinarian to slice through tendon and nerves to remove the last segment of bone in a cat’s toes.
Lisa Fernandez, a Brooklyn primary school head teacher, said she declawed her own cat before she knew what it entailed. Students at her school are now participating in a lobbying campaign to urge legislators to support the ban.
“When I found out what it was, I was horrified,” she said.
The debate comes as Americans’ feelings about their four-legged friends continue to evolve. Another bill in New York’s Legislature would remove sales taxes on pet food, and politicians voted last year to allow dogs to join their human companions on the patios of restaurants.
Several states have now banned surgeries which remove a dog’s vocal cords. And all 50 states now have statutes making severe animal cruelty a felony.
“There’s a rising tide of social concern about animal welfare,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of . “We’ve proven that the American public is deeply concerned about the welfare of animals, the ones that live with them and the ones used for food production.”
Australia, Britain and several European countries already ban cat declawing. It’s also illegal in Los Angeles and some other California cities. Estimates are that about a quarter of all household cats will be declawed in their lifetimes – though vets that spoke to the AP say it’s becoming less and less common.
At the Animal Haven shelter in lower Manhattan, associate director Kendra Mara said about 10 per cent of the cats up for adoption are declawed. Some of the felines who have the procedure resort to biting instead, and some avoid using the litter box because the litter can aggravate their wounds.
“It’s never an easy adoption,” she said. “There’s always the need to work on the behavior issue.”