Declaw Ban

by Laura Wides

Published January 2003

In a city known for its progressive stands on social issues, officials are
championing the rights of a different breed of residents - cats.

They want the city to become the first in the nation to ban the declawing of the popular pets.

If the City Council approves the ban as expected on Tuesday, West Hollywood would join 13 European nations that have outlawed the procedure condemned by many as inhumane because it involves cutting off part of the animal's toes.

The operation is performed on thousands of cats every year mainly to protect people and furniture from slashing.

"You wouldn't dig out a human's nails," said resident Karen Stith, who adopted a 1-year-old tabby this week. "Declawing is a cruel abuse."

Among the supporters of the ban is "Golden Girls" actress Bea Arthur.

"I've lived with cats for many years and would never dream of subjecting them to this needless, painful mutilation," Arthur wrote in a letter to the City Council.

West Hollywood cat owner Karl Sowa opposes the ban. He said saving his Himalayan cat Teufel from the pound gave him the right to declaw it.

"If we had to make some accommodations to protect our couch, I think that's OK because he has a good home," Sowa said.

The activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the ban would be the first of its kind in this country. The organization intends to lobby other cities around the nation to adopt similar laws.

The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, which has more than 2,500 practicing members nationwide, also supports the ban.

It would not be the first groundbreaking stance taken by West Hollywood, a city of just one square mile with 3,500 residents. It was the first city in the country to enact a program for domestic partners that, among other things, extended health insurance coverage to gay and lesbian partners of city employees.

Officials also say it was the first city to declare itself "pro-choice" when it comes to decisions involving abortion.

Last year, West Hollywood passed a motion officially dubbing pet owners "animal guardians" to acknowledge the importance of pets to the city's population. The terminology was mostly ceremonial - until now.

"I thought this would be a great first step to putting some teeth in the resolution," said Councilman John Duran, who proposed the ban after owning a number of declawed cats. He hopes cat owners will consider other options like claw caps and better training.

Stith agreed. She and her husband have often patched tears to their mattress caused by their cat. It's all part of adopting a pet, she said.

"Train them to use a scratching post or trim their nails," she said.

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