ALBANY — New York lawmakers on Tuesday passed a ban on cat declawing, putting the state on the cusp of being the first to outlaw the procedure.
The bill, which had been fought for several years by some veterinary groups, would outlaw several types of declawing surgeries except in cases of medical necessity, and forbid any such surgeries for “cosmetic or aesthetic reasons.”
The Assembly sponsor, Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, said those reasons include pet owners who “think their furniture is more important than their cat.”
“It’s unnecessary, it’s painful, and it causes the cat problems,” said Rosenthal, who owns two fully clawed cats, Kitty and Vida. “It’s just brutal.”
New York State joins several cities in banning declawing, including Los Angeles and Denver; several other states, including California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, are also considering bans, according to the Humane Society of United States, which hailed the New York bill.
“Declawing is a convenience surgery, with a very high complication rate, that offers no benefit to the cat,” said Brian Shapiro, the group’s New York director, adding that the procedure causes “an increase in biting and litter-box avoidance, which often results in the cat being surrendered to an animal shelter.”
The declawing bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (who is really more of a dog guy); on Tuesday, he said his office would review it. If the bill becomes law, those who violate it could face a $1,000 fine.
The bill was passed during an annual and somewhat rare rite of Albany bipartisanship: Animal Advocacy Day, when pet owners and their animal masters flood the Capitol, and Democrats and Republicans join forces to praise each other’s legislation and dote on each other’s pets.
Albany considers whole packs of animal bills each year; there are currently more than a dozen, for example, dealing with dogs, ranging from raising penalties for theft to establishing tax credits for adopting an animal. The State Senate itself passed nine animal-related bills on Tuesday, including bills to require pet stores to have fire protection systems and to increase the fines for people who leave their dogs outside without “adequate shelter.”
The action on cats also came as the Legislature ground toward the scheduled end of the year’s legislative session on June 19. After the election of a fully Democratic-controlled Legislature in November, there was a flurry of activity earlier this year, with major bills on abortion rights, gun control and election reforms.
But that pace has slackened in recent months, and Cuomo has spent much of the last week chiding the Legislature for inaction on issues like legalizing marijuana and renewing rent regulations.
Legislative leaders, meanwhile, have defended their work and striven to convey a unified front, issuing a joint statement last week promising to pass “the strongest rent package ever” — and making no mention of Cuomo.
The cat bill faced no such friction on Tuesday, despite ardent opposition from groups like the New York Veterinary Medical Society, which had argued that declawing should be allowed “when the alternative is abandonment or euthanasia.”
The society had also suggested that some cats were declawed — a process formally known as onychectomy — by owners who suffered from diseases like hemophilia, diabetes or immune disorders.
“Cats that would lose their home if not declawed face a higher risk of euthanasia than if their owner were able to care for them,” the society said in a statement released in late May. “They also exchange a life of comfort and care to potentially spend years in conditions that may be far from ideal for long-term living.”
Backers of the ban, however, said that the procedure causes intense, lasting pain for the animal, and likened it to mutilation.
“It’s the equivalent of severing a finger at the first knuckle,” said State Senator Michael N. Gianaris, the Queens Democrat who serves as the chamber’s deputy leader. “It’s said that a society can be judged by the way it treats its animals, and by allowing this practice to continue, we have not been setting a good example. Today we can move that in the right direction.”
And for once, Gianaris’s Republican counterpart agreed.
“Animals give us unconditional love,” said State Senator James Tedisco, a Republican who represents a sizable chunk of the Adirondacks and brought his pet Corgi, Grace, to the Capitol. “I think that this is the most nonpartisan day we have in the New York State Legislature.”
There were some questions raised by lawmakers during a debate in the Assembly, including from Brian Manktelow, a Republican assemblyman from the Finger Lakes region, who said that declawing should be “a medical decision, not a legislative decision.”
He also raised the specter of New Yorkers traveling to other states to have the procedure done. Rosenthal suggested that New York would, in fact, inspire other states to pass such bans.
“There is really never a good reason for a cat to be declawed,” she said, “from the cat’s point of view.”