Maryland appears set to become the second state to ban declawing of cats, something animal welfare advocates consider a “barbaric” practice. Critics say declawing is already rare, though, and that the measure would infringe on the judgment of veterinarians.
The General Assembly approved a bill Monday that would outlaw any procedure removing a portion of a cat’s claws or paws, except in the case of a medical condition compromising the animal’s well-being. It would not affect practices to file or trim cat claws.
The legislation goes next to Gov. Larry Hogan for his consideration. It passed by veto-proof majorities in each legislative chamber, but it’s possible a veto could occur after the General Assembly has adjourned for the year April 11.
Similar policies are already in place in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, but Maryland would join only New York in adopting a statewide declawing ban. The United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Austria and Sweden also have laws prohibiting declawing.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said it was needed to end a practice of “barbaric mutilation” that can cause long-term health issues for cats. It typically involves amputating bone from the end of cats’ toes.
Pet owners have pursued it to address behavior issues like scratching of people or furniture, but animal rights advocates say it can lead to long-term pain for cats and can create other behavioral issues, such as biting.
Some veterinarians opposed the bill on principle, raising concerns in legislative hearings that the bill would limit their ability to exercise their own judgment and act in their patients’ best interest. They said declawing is rarely practiced and that veterinary groups strongly discourage it, but that the legislation sets a precedent that could encourage more actions that might affect vets’ ability to make independent decisions about the health of animals.
Some lawmakers also questioned whether a declawing ban might make cat owners more likely to euthanize or abandon their pets.
Kagan said amendments to the bill ensured flexibility for veterinarians, allowing for a hearing process through the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners should any vets express a need to declaw any cats in the future. Under the bill, “willful” violation of the ban could result in penalties ranging from suspension to revocation of veterinary licensure and fines of up to $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for a second or other subsequent offense.
Animal welfare groups cheered the bill’s passage Monday. Maryland Votes for Animals called it a “historic” bill and urged Hogan to sign the declawing ban into law.
“This is not a little feline manicure. This is truly removing the first knuckle on their paw,” Kagan said. “We want to protect our kitties who have no voice.”