By Dan Whateley
If animals could vote, New York State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal would be governor in no time. As representative for the Upper West Side since 2006, Rosenthal has sponsored more than 15 bills supporting animal rights, including a recent law allowing dogs to join their owners at outdoor cafes. Now she is addressing the controversial practice of declawing cats by sponsoring a bill to ban the surgery.
“People need to learn how to handle cats who scratch,” Rosenthal (at right) said in a recent phone interview. “There is an exemption in the bill for serious medical issues, not cosmetic…certainly the vets can do what they have to do to help the cat. But not because an owner has expensive furniture or furniture that takes precedence over their cat’s needs.”
Many pet owners remove their cat’s claws to avoid feline damage to furniture, though there are cases where veterinarians recommend declawing when an owner is immunocompromised, rendering them vulnerable to cat scratches. Proponents of the legislation say the surgery, which involves amputation of the first knuckle of each toe, can negatively affect a cat’s gait, litter box usage, and cause other behavioral problems like biting.
The bill, A00595, currently sits in committee, where Rosenthal aims to rally support from colleagues and gain additional sponsors. Supporters of the bill gathered in Albany earlier this month to raise awareness for the legislation. Animal rights organizations, including the Humane Society of New York and the California-based Paw Project, have offered their backing. Rosenthal said she’s received thousands of signatures supporting the bill’s passage, as well as various levels of celebrity endorsements, including one from Black Sabbath bassist, Geezer Butler.
While there are a number of veterinarians publicly supporting the bill, the New York State Veterinary Medical Society published an oppositional memorandum in October of last year, citing government overstep and concerns that it will lead to an increase in the number of cats sent to shelters for destructive scratching behavior that can no longer be remedied through declawing. “Medical decisions should be left to the sound discretion of fully trained, licensed and state supervised professionals operating within appropriate standards of practice,” the memorandum said. “They [veterinarians] really don’t like legislators to get involved,” Rosenthal acknowledged, “but they need to change their practice and they’re not, so that’s why we have to step up.”
As a long-time cat owner, Rosenthal herself is not immune to the issue. “When you adopt an animal, you are responsible for their life and their well-being. My cat scratches my sheets,” she admitted. “Go for it! I’ll just find new ones. It’s a good excuse.”
Stock cat photo via Mr.Nikon/Shutterstock.com.