Lawmakers littered with comments on bill to outlaw declawing cats

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 18, 2022)—Cat owners can be a particular breed.

Take Ginny Boveington of Crofton, owner of two tortoise-shell cats adopted from a rescue center in Columbia.

When one of her cats needed surgery for crystals building up in her bladder, Boveington said, she was able to pay for the operation with CareCredit, a company that finances out-of–pocket medical expenses not covered by insurance.

If she couldn't have used that service to pay for the cat?

"I would've sold my kidney to help her," said Boveington, who heads Maryland Tortie Cat Club, a 200-member Facebook group.

If Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, didn't already know how passionate cat lovers are, he has gotten a wake-up call from the emails and calls into his office about legislation before the General Assembly that has lawmakers particularly animated and cat owners arguing both sides of the issue.

"This bill has brought in a lot of emails," Jennings said. "I've gotten both sides."

Jennings and other legislators are considering a bill to outlaw the declawing of cats, with some exceptions. Similar legislation was introduced in 2020 but, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was put on the backburner.

The current bill (SB67/HB22) would outlaw declawing of cats starting as early as October, unless for health purposes. The law would require the state's Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to refuse, suspend or revoke the licenses of any veterinarian who declaws a cat for non-medical reasons. If they do, they could be fined up to $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for the second.

Anyone other than a veterinarian who declaws a cat would face a civil offense of a fine of up to $1,000.

Maryland is not the only state wrangling with cats.

Fourteen other states are also considering a declawing ban, according to Alley Cat Allies, a Bethesda-based nonprofit that advocates against declawing. New York banned the practice in 2019. Meanwhile, a number of U.S. jurisdictions, including Denver, St. Louis, St. Louis County, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Austin, Texas, have made the process illegal.

Cats have been in lawmakers' crosshairs for more than 70 years.

Adlai Stevenson, who as governor of Illinois was known for far-reaching reforms to state police, mental hospitals, schools and the civil service, is also remembered by many for his humorous letter vetoing a "Cat Bill."

The legislation, which backers said would protect birds from dangerous, clawed cats, proposed fineing cat owners for allowing their felines to roam off their property. It also gave citizens licenses to trap them and even call police on the owners.

After pointing out in his 1949 letter to the legislature that "It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming," Stevenson wrote, "Many live with their owners in apartments or other restricted premises, and I doubt if we want to make their every brief foray an opportunity for a small game hunt by zealous citizens—with traps or otherwise."

When weighing in on the Maryland bill, some cat owners want the option to declaw their animals. They say felines damage expensive furnishings by using them as scratching posts. Veterinarians also said people want their cats declawed to avoid being scratched.

To them, Boveington said. "If you're so worried about your house, don't get a cat."

Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan, D-Montgomery, said she has gotten broad support for her bill, despite numerous cat owners and some veterinarians who disapprove of the law,

"The people who love cats have been very outspoken, tweeting, posting on Facebook," Kagan said. "People who love their cats want to make sure they're protected in law."

She said the legislation is not attacking veterinarians, who perform most of the procedures.

"It isn't intended to be punitive," said Kagan, who told fellow senators during Wednesday's Senate floor debate that 20% to 25% of cats are declawed.

Declawing a cat, veterinarians testified, is equivalent to removing a human's finger at the first knuckle. Some veterinarians said using a laser to perform the operation makes it more humane.

But Kagan countered, "If you are decapitating someone, does it matter if you're using an ax, machete or a laser? You still have no head."

The consensus in interviews with more than a dozen veterinarians is that the practice of declawing is fading, because most veterinarians will not perform the operation.

There are still some who do.

Dr. Michael Herko of Falls Road Animal Hospital in Baltimore said he continues to declaw cats, but it is not as simple as just bringing in an animal. It is on a case-by-case basis, he said.

"They are getting screened, they are getting tested," Herko said. "We discuss other options with the owners. It is not something that is recommended at this stage."

Maurice McCray, an upholsterer who has been repairing furniture for more than 40 years at Maurice's House of Art in Baltimore, doesn't know a thing about the bill lawmakers are considering. He hasn't been watching it and doesn't know what it's about.

But he does know one thing.

"Cats," McCray said, "an upholsterers' best friend. I should give them away for Christmas."

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