STATE NEWS: Declawing May Soon Be a Crime in NJ

January 26, 2017
Maureen McKinney

New Jersey may become the first state in the nation to make it a crime for veterinarians to declaw cats.

It may soon be a crime for New Jersey veterinarians to declaw cats.

Earlier this week, a bill that would add onychectomy to the list of criminal animal cruelty offenses cleared the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

According to the bill, veterinarians caught declawing a cat and pet owners who request the procedure would face a fine of up to $1000 or 6 months in jail. Violators would also face a potential civil penalty of $500 to $2000. The only exceptions to the ban would be for medical purposes.

The measure, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton, was passed Monday by a 43—10 vote, with 12 abstentions.

Controversy over the bill is rampant, with animal welfare groups declaring the procedure cruel and unnecessary. Singleton spoke for these groups when he said that declawing “is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity.” The procedure is typically performed to prevent cats from scratching furniture and other household property.

The state veterinary medical association disagrees, citing new surgical techniques and the wide availability of pain medication that make the procedure much less intrusive. "Only the claw bed is removed," said Middletown veterinarian and New Jersey VMA member Michael Yurkus. "We do not cut bone, and the pain medicine that is available today was not available" decades ago.

Veterinarians also argue that many cats would be relinquished—or not adopted in the first place—if this bill were to become law. “[Veterinarians] are not pro-declaw,” explained Dr. Yurkus, “but we want to prevent [cats] from being relinquished. We feel this is [a decision to be made] between a licensed vet and the client, and should not be regulated by the government.”

Although the AVMA has not offered a position specifically on the New Jersey bill, the organization “strongly encourages client education prior to consideration of onychectomy,” according to a statement on its website. The association’s policy statement goes on to state that “it is the obligation of the veterinarian to provide cat owners with a complete education with regard to the normal scratching behavior of cats, the procedure itself, as well as potential risks to the patient. Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. 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).”

Similar laws are in the works in New York and other states, and some large California cities already have declaw bans in place. The full assembly vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled.