Senate approves Murray bill to prohibit declawing

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STATE HOUSE – The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Melissa A. Murray to prohibit the declawing of cats in Rhode Island this week, with a bill now scheduled to go before the House for consideration.

The legislation, 2024-S 2007, would prohibit declawing of a cat unless a licensed veterinarian has determined that the procedure is medically necessary to address an illness, infection, disease, injury or an abnormal condition that compromises the cat’s health. Violators would face fines of up to $1,000.

“Declawing is painful, unnecessary and inhumane. It’s no way to treat any pet,” said Murray, a Democrat and deputy majority leader who represents District 24 in Woonsocket and North Smithfield. “Fortunately, there has been growing awareness of the risks and cruelty of declawing. Our state must recognize that declawing is animal abuse and prohibit it altogether.”

A release from Murray notes the onychectomy, or declawing, is not merely a permanent nail clipping, but is the amputation of the final bone in each of an animal’s toes. The procedure can cause infection, paw pain, nerve damage, lameness and back pain, and has been shown to increase the risks for biting, aggression and house soiling among cats.

Cats’ claws are integral to their natural behaviors, including stretching and playing, and for that reason, many veterinarians will not perform onychectomies. The release notes that there are simpler and safer alternatives to discourage cats from scratching furniture or people, most notably providing them with a scratching post or other appropriate scratching material.

Rhode Island already prohibits landlords from requiring tenants’ cats to be declawed, and federal housing laws prohibit such conditions in public housing nationwide.

Proponents of the bill note that according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, declawing is banned in at least 38 countries, including almost all of western Europe. New York and Maryland have passed statewide bans, and numerous cities around the country have local bans.

A similar bill in Massachusetts passed that state’s Senate unanimously in January. The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Legislative Fund, as well as numerous other animal protection organizations, support the legislation.

A companion bill, 2024-H 7052, is sponsored in the House by Rep. William O’Brien of North Providence.

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