New Hampshire would join the places where it is illegal in most circumstances to declaw cats under a bill that passed the state House on Thursday.
Representatives voted in favor of House Bill 231, 225-147.
Rep. Nicholas Germana, D-Keene, and others spoke in favor of it, saying the procedure is cruel and unnecessary. The bill would still need to pass the state Senate and be signed by the governor to go into effect.
Opponents of the measure said declawing is seldom done, the state shouldn’t mandate veterinary practice in this regard, and the surgery could prevent a cat from having to be put down.
Those on both sides of the issue say there aren’t good statistics about the prevalence of declawing in New Hampshire.
“But we know it is carried out in this state,” Germana said in the House session. “Two of the three cats that my family adopted from the Humane Society in recent years were declawed, and they came from New Hampshire.
“The fact that most reputable veterinarians won’t report it or admit that they did it speaks to the cruelty of the procedure and makes it impossible for us to have reliable statistics.”
He noted that HB 231 allows declawing when the cat requires it for medical reasons.
But Germana said it is simply unacceptable to declaw a cat for the convenience of the owner.
Rep. Diane Kelley, R-Temple, said the surgery is no simple nail trim.
“It’s the surgical amputation of the last joints of a cat’s toes, the equivalent to cutting off the tip of your finger at the first knuckle,” she said, grasping the top of a couple of her fingers.
She said the surgery’s aftermath is excruciatingly painful for cats, changes the way they walk, leaves them unable to defend themselves and can lead to long-term complications.
Rep. Judy Aron, R-Acworth, said the vast majority of veterinarians already discourage the practice, and instead urge behavior modification techniques.
“But if they fail and the veterinarian determines that declawing is the only solution other than rehoming or euthanasia, it should be a choice between the owner and the veterinarian,” she said.
Rep. Matthew Coulon, R-Pike, said passage of the bill could lead to an underground market for declawing.
“Zero evidence has been presented to suggest that any New Hampshire veterinarian has acted maliciously to a single cat,” he said. “This bill would criminalize our state’s veterinarians, likely leading to further prohibition of veterinary procedures.”
Those who perform this surgery on a cat in violation of the law would face a civil penalty starting at $500 under the bill.
Some veterinarians have made statements in support of the bill, saying that it would help them dissuade clients from the procedure if there were a law on the books against it.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has a policy that discourages the declawing of cats as an elective procedure but “respects the veterinarian’s right to use professional judgment” on the issue.
The policy says veterinarians should “counsel the owner about the natural scratching behavior of cats, the alternatives to surgery, as well as the details of the procedure itself and subsequent potential complications.”
It classifies the procedure as an amputation requiring pain-management medication.
Maryland, New York and a number of cities and countries outlaw the procedure, according to Alley Cat Allies, a Maryland nonprofit that seeks to protect and improve cats’ lives.
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