May 23, 2024

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R.I. Senate moves to ban declawing of cats

3 min read

PROVIDENCE — Bad news for sofas, good news for cats: Veterinarians in Rhode Island may soon be prohibited from declawing felines for nonmedical purposes.

The Rhode Island Senate on Tuesday voted 28 to 4 in support of legislation that would do just that. The bill sponsored by Melissa Murray, a Woonsocket Democrat, bans declawing cats unless it’s for therapeutic use, such as to treat recurring infections or an abnormal condition in the claw that comprises the feline’s health.

New York was the first state to ban declawing cats in 2019, followed by Maryland in 2022 and Virginia in March. The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously in support of legislation in January.

Should it become law in Rhode Island, anyone who violates the ban faces a fine up to $1,000. Similar legislation passed the Senate near the end of last year’s session, but a companion bill was never heard in committee on the House side.

“Declawing is painful, unnecessary and inhumane. It’s no way to treat any pet,” Murray said in a statement. “Our state must recognize that declawing is animal abuse and prohibit it altogether.”

It’s a practice equivalent to cutting off a person’s finger down to their knuckle, said Rhode Island Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals President Wayne Kezirian, who submitted a letter of support for Murray’s bill.

“It’s painful and puts the cat’s claw in a position where they can’t fend for themselves,” he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a really disfiguring operation.”

It also leaves cats with a permanent psychological impact, Kezirian added.

“Declawing cats is cruel and unnecessary — and it’s more disfiguring than the general public considers it to be,” he said.

Also in support of Murray’s legislation: the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society of the United States, Middletown-based Potter League, and the Warwick Animal Shelter.

Declawing cats is cruel and unnecessary — and it’s more disfiguring than the general public considers it to be.

– Rhode Island SPCA President Wayne Kezirian

If it was true, veterinarians would never do them.

– Letter of opposition from the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association

“The bottom line is if someone wants a cat that doesn’t scratch then they shouldn’t get a cat since all cats have a need to scratch, just like if they didn’t want a dog to bark then they shouldn’t get a dog,” shelter director Anna-Marie Corvin wrote to the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture March 13

Not all advocacy groups supported Murray’s legislation. The Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association (RIVMA) submitted a letter saying the decision to declaw should be left up to vets, not the state.

“Veterinarians, in consultation with the owner, are the most qualified individuals to decide if the declaw procedure is then warranted,” the association’s testimony read.

The association’s letter pointed out that a cat’s claws could pose an above normal health risk for some cat owners. They also said any claims that declawing causes cats permanent intractable pain are untrue.

“If it was true, veterinarians would never do them,” RIVMA wrote.

Kezirian called the opposition from veterinarians “disappointing.”

“I understand that their position is that independent, progressional judgment shouldn’t be impaired by legislation,” he said. “However there is a carve out in the legislation for medical reasons.”

Murray’s bill now goes to the House for consideration, where companion legislation is sponsored by Rep. William O’Brien, a North Providence Democrat. O’Brien’s bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1 and held for further study, as is standard practice for initial public hearings.

House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi declined to disclose his stance on the legislation.

“We will review the testimony and discuss it with the committee chairman and the sponsor in the coming weeks,” Shekarchi said in an emailed statement Tuesday.


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