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Denouncing Declawing

While working for a veterinarian, I had the unpleasant experience of assisting during a declawing procedure. Like many, I had assumed that the practice was a simple operation and that the cat would awaken in basically the same body, only now unable to shred furniture.

I was sickened by what I saw. The vet was a compassionate man who truly believed that this was a justifiable and only alternative to putting the cat to death. The owners probably didn't even investigate alternatives, honestly unaware of the journey their cat was about to live through, and how her life would change.

When I realized that a good part of the cat's paws had to be amputated, it was difficult to remain and assist the procedure. But perhaps the worst part was when she awoke from the anesthetic, sitting up like a frightened raccoon, waving her bandaged paws in the air and howling non-stop. I had worked at a Children's Zoo for 5 years, raising and nurturing many types of injured and orphaned wildlife. Never had I heard such a plaintive cry from any creature.

The cat's eyes were wide and she desperately attempted to sit up, dueling with the lingering effects of the anesthetic. It was sadly apparent that she was experiencing not only intense fear, but also exquisite pain.

She had people who loved her and I have no doubt that they thought they were doing the best thing for her, the family, and the furniture. They were unaware of the long-term effects and having been told that the cat would be in some discomfort for awhile, they hadn't the slightest idea of the degree of terror and agony this member of the family would endure. Like a circumcised infant boy, had this victim a voice, she would have insisted, loudly and clearly, on her birthright. Surgery to correct disease or to sterilize companion animals saves lives and suffering and does not inhibit inherently important behaviors. But our society's use of surgery that eliminates important body parts such as protective and sensitive ears and tails that express communication in dogs, or claws that are as vital to cats' lives as fingers are to humans', and our willingness to allow these, needs to addressed.

If we, as humans, are going to insist that we are superior to other animals, then we have the responsibility to make certain that all dealings with them are accomplished in a humane manner. In order to do so, we must take the time to do the research and thoroughly think things through.

Understand first that cats are designed to walk on their toes. Evolution has designed the claws as an integral part of their very being; they are used for balance, defense, exercise (watching cats at a tall scratching post, one can see the animal stretching various muscle and tendon groups); they allow climbing ability and even permit the animal to choose whether or not she would like to retract them. This is unique to the cat and is important to their very "felineness".

Declawing does not simply clip back the nail. The claw is the tip of a cat's toe and removing it so that it cannot grow back entails an amputation similar to that of removing a human's finger from the last joint. There are bones, tendons, ligaments and nerves that are cut off and those of us who have ever had these vital body parts severed, especially in nerve-rich areas, have an idea of the high degree of pain involved. Now imagine it happening to 10 at the same time. Take this further and realize that not all veterinarians admit that pain relief for declawing is necessary. And further still; the cat has to continue using these mutilated paws for digging in her litter and walking, even during the recovery period.

Declawing poses risks that are considerably higher than most types of surgery. Studies have shown that 50% of all declaw surgeries end up with complications immediately after surgery and almost 20% had complications once the cat went home. These can include everything from pain so severe that it cannot be managed, hemorrhage, damage of main nerves and abnormal growth to severed nerves, infection, scars, persistent and sometimes permanent pain and a reluctance to walk or use the litter box. Even if the cat heals properly, he is now forced to walk at a different angle and that in and of itself, can produce pain and even arthritis. And frequently, declawed cats feel vulnerable without their backup defense mechanism and replace it with biting.

We live in a society that views animals as commodities, easily discarded when no longer convenient. Fortunately however, our consciousness as a whole is developing and we are slowly beginning to view animals as the sentient beings they are. Even science is finally catching up to that which animal lovers have always known: animals feel emotions. Recent evidence is piling up that help scientists to affirm that fear, love and grief are very real for non-human animals. It has become clear that, just as a human will grieve amputated limbs, so too does the cat. However, humans have technology to help regain the mobility and security that they have lost. Declawed cats do not.

Diane C. Nicholson ( ) is a freelance writer and photo-artist specializing in families of all species. As a bereaved parent herself, she has worked extensively with other grieving parents and now creates "memorial art" in which she uses their own snapshots (how many of us have wished we'd gotten that portrait, too late-- including stillborn infants) and turns them into art. These can be used as cards to give out at funerals and memorial services (all accomplished online) or printed onto a stretched canvas, ready to hang.

She also has quality, Earth-friendly posters (one, First Born, is her most famous. It is the once-in-a-lifetime photo of a mare and foal lying down and cuddling together. These 18 x 24 posters have been bought for walls of maternity offices and birthing centers, new baby gifts, and so on, along with the regular Holiday gift-giving.

Other than her own art, Diane specializes her photography sessions on "Bellies, Births and Babies". She loves the whole birthing process and used to teach prenatal classes as well as attend births as support. Now she leaves that to midwives and doulas and records the memories in stunning photographs of the working, birthing couple and the new family.

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