Proposed Bill Scratches At Key Cat Issue, Would Ban Declawing

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TALLAHASSEE – Me-Wow! 

After an early stumble, Florida lawmakers are moving ahead with a proposal to ban the practice of declawing cats. The bill would impose hefty fines on anyone who removes a cat’s claws to protect furniture or drapes. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the bill 4-1 earlier this week. Two more committees have not yet scheduled votes on the measure. 

Florida would become the second state to prohibit the procedure after New York, which banned it last summer. The bill’s sponsor is self-described animal lover Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. 

Some cities, including Denver and Los Angeles, have already banned cat declawing.

The Agriculture Committee temporarily postponed action on the bill earlier this month, amid questions about the penalties and fines for violators. Senators expressed confusion about whether the fines would be imposed per paw or per cat. 

The new version of the bill would impose a $1,000 penalty – per cat – against anyone who removes a cat’s claws, which involves removing all or most of the last bone of each of the toes of the front feet and severing tendons, nerves and ligaments. The practice is often done to protect furniture or mitigate bad cat behavior. 

Licensed veterinarians could be disciplined by the state Board of Veterinary Medicine, which could result in fines of up to $5,000 for each violation. 

Exceptions would allow for declawing needed to address a cat’s medical conditions, such as recurring illness, infection or disease.

The bill, SB 48, highlights a misconception among some pet owners who consider declawing an acceptable solution to prevent shredded curtains or furniture. Experts say scratching is a natural behavior for cats, removing dead husks from their claws, stretching muscles and marking their territory. They recommend scratching posts, sprays and treats to modify destructive behavior.

“Declawing is the amputation of the first joint,” said Ashlee Peppenelli, a customer care specialist at the Humane Society of North Central Florida. “It would be the same as cutting off the first knuckle of your finger.”

One of the founders of the Tally Cat Cafe, just a few miles from the Capitol, described for lawmakers her experiences caring for a cat that was available for adoption. Katie Logue said the cat had visibly red paws and would bite at them for relief, until she stopped using the litter box and was returned to the county shelter.

“Cats are experts at hiding pain,” Logue said. “We found her a blanket, wrapped her up in that, and that was the only thing that brought her comfort.” She said the cat would try to bite from discomfort “because her paws did not work and she knew she had no claws.”

Supporters of the legislation said there are harmless alternatives to preventing destructive cat behavior. Shirley Sharon, a legislative aide for Book, said she uses double-sided tape to deter her Bengal-tabby mix, Benzy, from scratching and damaging furniture. The tape works to protect her belongings, she said, and leaves her cat looking “so defeated and confused.” 

The declawing bill is among several proposals about dogs and cats in Tallahassee. One would ban pet leasing to avoid a lender repossessing a dog or cat if the buyer can’t repay the loan. Another bill would make shelter animals the official Florida state pet. One bill would require that pet stores be licensed.

“There are many folks in this room who have real love affairs with their cats,” the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, said during the vote. 

According to the Humane Society of North Central Florida, declawing can cause health issues for indoor cats, including infection, lameness and back pain. For outdoor cats, being declawed could mean the difference between life and losing one of their nine lives. Without their claws, cats are rendered defenseless.

Book, the Democratic sponsor, said she grew up around cats but now owns two dogs, a bird and two tortoises. She said she had heard from animal activists who supported the ban on declawing, including the Gaithersburg, Maryland,-based Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. 

“Cat people are a fierce army,” Book said. 

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at erosen@freshtakeflorida.com 

About Everitt Rosen

Everitt is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by emailing news@wuft.org or calling 352-392-6397.

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