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 Dr. Michelle Meyer holds Cooper, an 8-year-old ragdoll cat at Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights.

Dr. Michelle Meyer holds Cooper, an 8-year-old ragdoll cat at Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Sterling Heights lawmaker presents bill to ban cat declawing

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 28, 2020

 Xander, a 12-year-old snowshoe cat, shows off his claws. Xander is polydactyl, which means he has more toes than the average cat.

Xander, a 12-year-old snowshoe cat, shows off his claws. Xander is polydactyl, which means he has more toes than the average cat.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The surgical removal of a cat’s claws may generally be no longer purr-mitted in Michigan, if state Rep. Nate Shannon gets his way.

On Feb. 20, Shannon, D-Sterling Heights, introduced House Bill 5508 in the state Legislature, which would ban the declawing of cats for nontherapeutic reasons.

Shannon represents Michigan House District 25, which includes parts of Sterling Heights and Warren.

According to Shannon’s office, an estimated 20%-25% of domestic cats are declawed. U.S. homes have around 94 million cats as pets, according to a 2018 survey by the American Pet Products Association.

Shannon’s bill would prevent anyone in Michigan from performing a surgical procedure that affects the normal function of a cat’s claws unless the goal is therapeutic for the cat’s own health. Aesthetics and convenience would not be lawful reasons. If the bill becomes law, the penalty of violating it would be a civil fine of up to $1,000.

Shannon said the bill has 20 cosponsors. Following the bill’s introduction, the Michigan Humane Society endorsed it. Shannon added that news about the proposal quickly received hundreds of comments and shares on social media.

Shannon, 45, said he got the bill idea while driving to Lansing and listening to the radio.

“I was listening to ‘The Howard Stern Show,’” he said. “That was … last year, with how the state of New York passed a ban — the first state in the union to pass a ban. He was talking about it.”

Shannon said he never really thought about declawing prior to that, but he did research and found the practice to be brutal.

“It’s not just removing the claw — they actually cut off the bone,” he said. “It’s actually quite inhumane, in my opinion.”

So that’s when he got to work on a bill to ban cat declawing, adding that he looked at what New York did. According to Shannon’s office, seven Canadian provinces, many European Union member countries, Australia, Japan, Israel and New Zealand also outlaw the practice.

Dr. Michelle Meyer, a veterinarian at Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights, said she generally supports Shannon’s bill. She compared declawing to removing a knuckle on a human hand.

“Cats walk up on their toes, so if you remove that part of their toe, what we’re starting to learn is that it alters the way they stand, so they actually have more back pain when they get older,” she said.

Meyer said times are changing how many veterinarians regard the procedure. She added that scratching is normal behavior for a cat, so pet owners should give cats scratching posts to use.

However, she recognized that some pet owners are elderly or may have blood clotting problems, and sometimes cats can remove soft plastic nail caps that go over claw tips to render them harmless.

“The problem is, as veterinarians, we want to help animals, and declawing is not of any medical benefit to the cat,” she said. “The only issue I worry about is what if the owner has tried everything, if they did all the alternative measures. That is the only part of the bill (that’s) the only gray zone.”

In January, the American Veterinary Medical Association updated its policy toward declawing cats, and it discourages the procedure when done electively.

While the AVMA statement said it respects veterinarians’ professional judgment on the matter, it advised them to talk to pet owners about cats’ natural scratching behaviors, what declawing entails as a surgical amputation procedure, the possible risks and alternatives to declawing.

After Shannon’s Feb. 20 introduction, the bill was sent to the Michigan House Agriculture Committee. Shannon said it might take some time for the bill to make it to the governor’s desk, but he hopes to get the conversation going, as well as to get committee chairs to move it along.

“The longer we wait, more and more cats will have this procedure done,” he said. “We’ll be vigilant.”

Learn more about House Bill 5508 by visiting legislature.mi.gov, or find out more about state Rep. Nate Shannon by visiting www.housedems.com/shannon.

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