Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Monday banning the practice of cat declawing.
The law, upon the governor's signature, takes immediate effect and makes New York the first state in the nation to outlaw the declawing of cats.
"Declawing is a cruel and painful procedure that can create physical and behavioral problems for helpless animals, and today it stops," said Governor Cuomo in a prepared written statement. "By banning this archaic practice, we will ensure that animals are no longer subjected to these inhumane and unnecessary procedures."
Dr. Timm Otterson, a veterinarian with the Summer Street Cart Clinic in Buffalo and board member for the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society, says the practice is not as common as it was in the past. But he says there are many uncertainties and unaddressed issues raised by Monday's action in Albany.
"There are no loopholes for people with medical conditions, like clotting disorders and diabetes, that really have a medical reason for having their cats declawed," Dr. Otterson said.
Known as an onychectomy, declawing involves the removal of all or most of the last bone of each of the toes of the front feet, and tendons, nerves and ligaments.
Critics of the practice say it causes cats to often shift their walking mechanics in a way that results in constant pain and can lead to other medical problems such as arthritis, chronic joint and back pain and adverse behavioral changes. Dr. Otterson suggests while there is some pain in the procedure, there are medications available for the feline patient.
"Personally, the cats that I see that have been declawed, I don't see long-term behavioral issues. I don't see long-term lameness," he said. "I think a lot of that is just overstated."
The governor's ban, though, drew quick praise from Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
"Governor Cuomo's signing of this historic bill in New York is a watershed moment for the declawing issue, and we hope other states will follow suit by prohibiting this unnecessary convenience surgery," said Block in a prepared written statement. "Complications from declawing include an increase in biting and litterbox avoidance—which often results in the cat being surrendered to an animal shelter. The Humane Society of the United States applauds Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, Senator Gianaris, the Paw Project and veterinarians across the state for their commitment to prioritizing the health and safety of cats in the Empire State."
Gina Lattuca, chief communications officer for the SPCA Serving Erie County, says shelters are concerned about the potential impact the cat declawing ban may have on future adoptions.
"The one thing we're concerned about is will it affect or impact in any way the number of feline adoptions," Lattuca said. "We still have that section of society that says 'I love cats but I would never bring a cat into my home if a cat has claws.' That's not just because of furniture. There are people with toddlers, people with infants, people with different medical concerns and people who have legitimate fears. Will those people be less likely now to bring cats into the home?"
Lattuca then spoke of the broader issue of cat overpopulation.
"If this ends up contributing to the cat overpopulation problem here in Erie County, what else will be done by the state now to help control cat overpopulation?" she asked.