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Council Claws Its Way Through Animal Welfare Issue:

Nearly 40 people, including Santa Monica pet owners, veterinaries, animal welfare specialists, and other stakeholders, showed up at City Hall on Tuesday, October 27 to weigh in on a proposed ordinance to ban cat declawing in the city. After more than two hours of public testimony and council debate, the ordinance passed upon first reading by a vote of 6-1, with Councilmember Richard Bloom voicing the sole “nay” vote.

Cat declawing, also referred to by the procedural names onychectomy and flexor tenonectomy, is thought to be inhumane by proponents of the ban, while many ban opponents say it is a necessary last resort measure to prevent abandonment or death of a cat.

A change in state law, effective at the beginning of next year, will preempt cities from banning cat declawing procedures. In response to this change, animal rights advocates recently appeared before Council to urge that Santa Monica quickly adopt a declawing ban.

A proposal to direct staff to prepare an ordinance banning declawing was considered in 2004, but was not adopted.

Supporters of the declawing ban say the procedure, which is an amputation of the animal’s toes at the last joint, including a portion of the bone, is painful to the animal, and causes behavioral problems, including increased biting and the inability to use a litter box. They say that declawed cats are  likely to be given up by owners to shelters because of these behavioral issues, and that declawed cats are unadoptable and often undergo euthanasia.

Several members of the Paw Project, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit that works to ban declawing, spoke at the hearing, sharing stories of “mutilated cats” and portraying declawing as “an extreme act of cruelty.” Dr. Jennifer Conrad, a Santa Monica veterinarian and Paw Project leader, said the procedure often puts money in the pockets of greedy veterinarians and is an inhumane act against animals.

Brandy Ferdig, a San Bernardino resident and cat owner, follows the declawing issue religiously. She made a special trip to Santa Monica to support the ban. Ferdig had seven cats declawed, after which three of them died and the others displayed behavioral issues.

“One was killed by a dog because it couldn’t defend itself, and the surviving cats won’t use the litter box,” Ferdig said. “Three different veterinarians suggested I get the cats declawed without talking about outcomes or alternatives.”

Opponents of the ban, including the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), argue that  the option of declawing should be preserved because, in some cases, it is necessary to protect the cat’s health, and that the evidence that declawing is detrimental is not scientific, but merely anecdotal. The also say that immunocompromised owners, such as those who have HIV/AIDS, are particularly at risk from scratches and may abandon their pets if they cannot declaw them.

A spokesperson from CVMA appeared before the council, eschewing the notion that declawing causes behavioral problems and saying the ban would prevent last resort operations and result in the death of some cats. Statistics show that 25 percent of cats were declawed in the U.S. in 2009, a figure that prompted Councilmember Gleam Davis to comment that the number was too high to represent the procedure as a last resort measure.

Kevin McKeown was the most vocal councilmember in support of the ban.

“The CVMA’s attempt to usurp local jurisdiction in this matter disturbs me, but what disturbs me more is the issue of animal cruelty. Local veterinarians and residents want a ban on declawing, and, on the other hand, a powerful lobbying group is arguing for declawing…we have the opportunity to be the second city in California to ban declawing and I hope we do that tonight.”

Several California cities have considered declawing prohibitions, but only West

Hollywood has adopted one.

Councilmember Bloom was outspoken against the ban, and made two amendments to the original ordinance. Those amendments failed. Bloom expressed concern for the welfare of cats upon approval of a declawing ban.

“We must take seriously the fact that the proposed ban will lead to the death of cats,” Bloom said.

The ordinance allows for one exception, allowing for declawing when it addresses a medical condition of the cat, such as an existing or recurring illness, infection, disease, injury or abnormal condition in the claw, that compromises the animal’s health. The exception does not allow procedures undertaken for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons or for any person’s convenience.

Councilmember Bobby Shriver expressed concern that a two-hour discussion on cat declawing seemed more important to many members of the public than past discussions on issues of cruelty to humans, such as talks surrounding the homelessness issue.

In other business, an interim ordinance extending the interim ordinance that modifies property development standards in the Ocean Park High Multiple Residential District relating to sideyard setback and open space requirements until November 10, 2011 passed upon first reading. An ordinance amending city code related to the number and type of driveways required for parking lots and structures with more than 40 spaces, hazardous visual obstruction mitigations, allowable number of parking maneuvers, parking access in all districts, and garage door width in the front one-half of parcels was adopted upon second reading.

A lengthy discussion about the Exposition Light Rail Phase 2 maintenance facility went past midnight. At the outset of that discussion, the focus was on a proposed alternative concept hybrid maintenance facility site that would replace the originally proposed sole sight in the Stewart Street neighborhood, where residents have repeatedly complained about the facility’s potential negative impacts on their quality of life.

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, November 10 at 5:45 p.m. 

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