Nova Scotia

'Barbaric mutilation': N.S. animal welfare advocates hope cat declawing ban near

If Nova Scotia veterinarians fail to pass a motion at their December meeting, the province will likely be asked to enact a ban on cat declawing, says animal welfare activist and former Halifax vet.

'Declawing is a surgical amputation that has no therapeutic benefit to an animal,' says SPCA

Nova Scotia animal welfare groups are hopeful a ban on declawing cats will happen here after Denver City Council passed a law prohibiting it in that city. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Animal welfare organizations in Nova Scotia are hopeful that a ban on declawing cats may come soon.

Retired veterinarian Dr. Hugh Chisholm says the topic will be on the agenda at a meeting of the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association (NSVMA) in December.

"I'm kind of waiting to see what happens with the vet association in December. It would be a huge feather in the cap of the Nova Scotia veterinarian association and all the veterinarians in the province, if we could say, 'Look! We were the first. We did it,'" he said.

"Once one province does it, the dominos will fall fairly quickly and other provinces will likely jump on board because it's overdue," he predicted.

Chisholm — whose two cats, Stan and Earl Grey, ran for Halifax mayor and premier of Nova Scotia respectively as Tuxedo Party candidates — is an animal activist and champion of cats. His Tuxedo Party events raise money for spay and neuter programs.

Retired Halifax veterinarian Hugh Chisholm is shown with Earl Grey, Tuxedo Party candidate for premier in 2013. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposes elective and non-therapeutic partial digital amputation (PDA), commonly known as declawing, or onychectomy, of domestic cats.

Some pet owners request the operation because their cats are clawing furniture, carpet and drapes, or to prevent scratches to people or other pets.

The NSVMA hasn't taken the same stance, but did make amendments to its code of ethics in September 2014, which state an owner who requests declawing "must be provided with a clear outline of the procedure" and a written consent form signed.

That move came soon after veterinarians in the province voted against a June 2014 motion put forward by Chisholm, then a practising vet, to prohibit the practice of declawing.

Calling the procedure "a barbaric mutilation," Chisholm equated it with amputating a human's fingers down to the last knuckle joint, causing long-term pain for the animal.

Provincewide ban?

If the association fails again to ban declawing next month, Chisholm suggested Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell will likely be on the hot seat. Approaching the minister to enact a provincewide ban would be the next logical step, he said.

Approaching municipalities separately, as is happening in the United States, probably isn't the best way to put a prohibition in place, he said.

"I think provincially would be a more easier and efficient way to do it."

Earlier this week, city councillors in Denver, Colo., unanimously passed an ordinance that bans elective cat declawing. It joins eight other cities in California that have declawing bans. Animal welfare advocates are also working to have similar municipal ordinances passed in New Jersey and New York.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says declawing, which requires partial paw amputation, causes felines unnecessary and avoidable pain. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

Chisholm said he applauds the development in Denver: "I'm elated."

He said he believes there are still some vets who want the final decision on claw removal to be between them and the pet owner, even though research has debunked most arguments for the surgery.

The NSVMA decided in 2010 to prohibit its members from doing surgeries that alter an animal's appearance solely for cosmetic reasons.

"A few years ago, they banned the docking [cutting] of the ears and tails of dogs." 

'Cats less valuable'

Pamela Sears, director of operations at Halifax Cat Rescue Society, is also hopeful Nova Scotia veterinarians will pass the ban.

"We're all very much in favour of a declawing ban. [We] can't believe it is still going on in this day and age, especially after they've banned the docking of dogs' tails and ears," she said.

She said that attitude underscores a common perception that "cats are less valuable of the two pets, in terms of getting that kind of attention."

She pointed out that other western countries such as the U.K., Australia and the members of the European Union have already prohibited cat declawing.

"United States and Canada is very much lagging behind."

SPCA opposes declawing

Sears said there are a number of vets in the province who already refuse to do the surgery.

"Having said that, I recognize that it is a business and they operate under a business model with the college sort of dictating the terms. So by the virtue of any business, if there is a demand, they will serve that need. There are veterinarians that choose not to do this and that is the end of it. But I think that is clinic by clinic."

The Nova Scotia SPCA is another organization against cat declawing.

"Declawing is a surgical amputation that has no therapeutic benefit to an animal," it states on its website, adding, "the pain and discomfort felt by declawed cats following surgery, and possibly lasting for the rest of their lives, may bring about undesirable behavioural changes."

The SPCA asks potential pet owners to sign an agreement not to declaw any cats after they are adopted.

About the Author

Susan Bradley is a journalist in Halifax.