New York State lawmakers yesterday said a resounding “no” to the declawing of cats. Many well-meaning cat owners over the years have chosen to pay for this surgery, but we now know with certainty that it is the cause of tremendous suffering and behavioral problems for cats. In effect, it is similar to chopping off each human finger at the last knuckle. If it passes into law, New York would be the first state in the country to ban this highly controversial convenience surgery that has no medical or other benefits for cats and can lead to lifelong health risks and complications for the animals.

We applaud the state’s lawmakers for their pioneering move, and we are particularly grateful to the bill’s sponsors, Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal and Sen. Michael Gianaris. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature. The New York governor has a laudable record of supporting animal protection legislation in the Empire State and we are optimistic that he will sign this bill into law.

Several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, already ban cat declawing except for therapeutic reasons, and so do a majority of Canadian provinces. The practice is also banned in dozens of countries, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. Several U.S. states, including California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and West Virginia, are now considering similar bills.

A multitude of veterinarians across New York State refuse to perform declaw surgery, citing that it is a convenience procedure with no valid data to prove the alleged justifications for its use, and national veterinary organizations, including the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, oppose it.

Declaw surgery, also known as onychectomy, is not simply the removal of the animal’s nails or claws; it involves at least 10 separate amputations of the last bone of each toe. Those who declaw cats are looking for an end to natural scratching behaviors, but there are a few simple steps cat owners can take to discourage scratching of furniture or household items, including keeping the cat’s nails trimmed and teaching the animal to use a scratching post.

Declawing itself can also lead to a number of behavioral abnormalities in cats, including litter box aversion and increased biting. Shelter statistics consistently show that these problems, not destruction of household objects, are the primary behavioral causes of owners surrendering cats to shelters.

The New York bill would impose a fine of $1,000 on veterinarians who perform the procedure for non-medical reasons, but it does make a clear exemption for cases where the surgery is needed for the physical benefit of the animal – such as nail bed tumors or bone infection.

We are excited to see this bill move forward and urge Gov. Cuomo to sign it, even as we await action from other states with similar bills. Disfiguring cats for convenience is not something most cat lovers in New York or anywhere in the country support, and it’s high time we end this cruelty once and for all.