Denverites, known for their devotion to their critters, got a sneak preview of veterinarian and freshman director Dr. Jennifer Conrad’s debut movie. On Wednesday, September 25, Sie Film Center premiered “The Paw Project,” a documentary film dedicated to exposing the horrors of declawing cats. The movie premiers in New York City on Friday, September 27.
The practice of declawing housecats dates back to the 1950s. All veterinarian schools and many vet practices view the procedure as routine, on par with spaying or neutering pets. Declawing a cat, though, involves removing the first knuckles of her paws. Not only is the post-surgery painful for cats, who don’t respond well to pain medicine, the amputation often leads to a life of chronic pain.
Dr. Conrad first noticed the pain cats go through in her vet practice in California. She works with big cats, and she saw what an artificial gait the amputation led to in tigers, cougars, lions and other big felines. Some cats find walking on their artificially shortened paws so painful that they walk on their wrists; some die because they cannot bear the pain enough to make it to food or water sources. Turns out these exotic cats were exhibiting the same crippled behavior as do common housecats; the plight just became more noticeable due to their size.
Unfortunately, domestic housecats suffer through the same level of excruciating pain as the exotic cats. Dr. Conrad removed claw fragments the size and feel of a rock from the amputated toes of tigers. Proportionally speaking, many declawed housecats suffer from the same claw regrowth. If you’ve ever had a rock in your shoe, you know how irritating the feel is. Imagine if the rock were embedded in your foot.
In addition, the severed nerve endings never really heal. This often means cats become reluctant to scratch in their litterbox, forcing them to eliminate urine elsewhere, such as the nearest soft carpet. Likewise, made insecure by the operation and resultant handicap, declawed cats are more prone to vicious biting. Unfortunately, this often makes them more prone to being taken to the nearest animal shelter. Shelter workers at the documentary called these cats “unadoptable” because no one wants a biting cat that urinates on the carpet.
Additionally, the amputation forces cats to walk awkwardly, the same as any other amputee. This gait causes them joint pain and eventual arthritis. Many cats suffer from this pain: 22 million cats in the United States have had the declaw amputation.
After the movie showing, Dr. Conrad and local veterinarian Aubrey Lavizzo hosted a Q & A session. The audience was comprised largely of cat-lovers, some admitting to as many as ten cats. However, animal shelter workers, vet technicians, veterinarians and even Beth McCann’s aid added to the discussion. Veterinarian Dr. John Hess spoke up. Vets are largely accused of performing so many declawings because the procedure is relatively easy and profitable. Dr. Hess remarked, “I don’t know a lot of vets making a lot of money that way. I’m going to do what’s best for the animal.” Another veterinarian added that he knew many colleagues who only perform two to three declawings a year, at the owners’ insistence and after several counseling sessions. “The Paw Project,” though, shows other vets owning up to a lot more declawings, even suggesting them at the time of spaying or neutering a kitten.
Dr. Conrad’s movement, The Paw Project, aims to ban declawing. While declawing may save a sofa from being scratched up, the nearby rug often gets urinated on , and the owner gets bitten. Declawing costs from $300 to $500; even a deluxe scratching post goes for under $100. Banning the declawing procedure should be unnecessary. It is ineffectual, costly and, above all, inhumane.
However, Dr. Conrad likes to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Laws can’t change the heart – but they can restrain the heartless.” Coloradans, on the other hand, do love their critters. Boycott vets who still practice the amputation, especially the ones who recommend it as a “routine” procedure; such a boycott convinced a Malibu vet to stop declawing. However, those who have a human heart can also make a difference by emailing their legislators or at least signing this petition at Change.org. Restrain the heartless.