Several years ago West Hollywood, California enacted a law that prohibited the declawing of cats for non-medical purposes. The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) was not happy about that move.
The CVMA claimed (with some validity) that confusion ensues when local governments set rules affecting the practice of veterinary medicine. The organization felt that such rules should be consistent statewide. The CVMA sued West Hollywood to overturn the law.
It was a public relations disaster. The CVMA was careful to focus on the confusion that occurs for clients and veterinarians when laws regulating veterinary medicine vary block by block. But to the public at large it looked simply like the organization, and therefore the vets it represents in California (essentially all of us), were proponents of routinely declawing cats.
And I have to say that to some of us in the trenches it looked the same way. After all, feline rabies vaccination mandates vary from county to county and from city to city in California. I work at hospitals in many different municipalities, and I often end up sorely confused about whether I am legally required to administer rabies vaccines to my feline patients. Why did the CVMA decide to pick its battle over declawing, rather than vaccinating?
The CVMA lost its lawsuit against West Hollywood. The organization was down but not out. It sponsored statewide legislation prohibiting local governments from enacting laws affecting the practice of veterinary medicine. The legislation became law on January 1, 2010. But there was a catch: local declaw bans enacted before the law took effect were grandfathered in and remain valid.
A number of California cities, including Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Monica enacted declaw bans before the deadline. It is now illegal to declaw cats in these cities (as well as West Hollywood) unless there is a medical need for the procedure.
Here is a quote from the January/February, 2010 issue of CVMA’s bimonthly publication, California Veterinarian.
Cat Declaw Bans Create Confusion for the Profession and the Public
The cities (mentioned above) have adopted ordinances that ban the procedure of cat declawing within their city limits. Their actions were in direct response to the passage of SB 762, which became effective on January 1, 2010. Each of the cities will be grandfathered-in due to their effective dates.
SB 762 was sponsored by the CVMA to ensure that approved medical procedures performed by all licensed health care professionals are consistent throughout California. The law as passed to prevent a hodgepodge of cities deciding what veterinary procedures can be performed by a licensed California veterinarian. The actions by these city councils have shown a clear example of why SB 762 was a sound and important decision by the state legislature.
I concede that the various laws lead to confusion for clients and veterinary staff members. I have witnessed this at a few hospitals already.
I also believe that city councils may not understand certain medical nuances that might make declawing a cat a legitimate procedure. For instance, do the ordinances allow the declawing of cats owned by immunocompromised humans who could be made severely ill if accidentally scratched? Ideally, veterinarians should be involved in drafting declaw bans. I doubt that any such consultations occurred in the rush to pass the ordinances in the cities listed above.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem. It will eliminate the confusion caused by local declaw bans. It will help the CVMA restore its reputation with the cat-loving public of California.
The CVMA should sponsor a statewide declaw ban that supersedes all local ordinances. Veterinarians can help draft the law to include legitimate and reasonable exemptions, but convenience declawing would become history in California.