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Assemblyman Nava introduces bill to forbid California landlords from requiring animal declawing, debarking

Claw Last year, California legislation that put regulation of cat declawing, or onychectomy, into the state's hands sparked heated debate and prompted Los Angeles and six other cities to pass local bans on the practice before the law went into effect this year. Now the issue of declawing is back on the legislative docket, and contention may be brewing again.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for California landlords who allow animals to require renters to declaw or debark their pets as a condition of occupancy. Under the legislation, landlords could not give preferential treatment to tenants with declawed or debarked animals or advertise in a way designed to discourage applicants with animals that have not been declawed or devocalized.

The California Apartment Assn., which represents more than 50,000 rental property owners, managers and industry professionals, supports the bill's approach, which is consistent with the Sacramento-based association's policies, according to Debra Carlton, senior vice president. Carlton said her group does not call for declawing or debarking in the rental contract forms it produces for landlords. The association instead recommends that property owners rely on pet deposits and hold residents responsible for the actions of their pets.

But the California Veterinary Medical Assn., which initially planned to support the legislation because it involves landlords and not veterinarians, has decided to oppose it because of language contained in Section 1 of the bill.

Said the veterinary group's president, Mark Nunez: "Section 1 we believe has inflammatory unscientific language that certainly is not based in fact. It talks about scientific studies showing that declawed cats have a tendency to bite more, which is simply not proven. It says that declawed cats are more likely to lose their homes because of unintended behavioral problems that are often exhibited in animals that have been declawed, which is also simply not true."

Nunez said the group would be willing to revisit its position if this section were removed from the bill. He added that the association is not pro-declawing but believes that the decision of whether to perform the procedure should be between the cat owner and the veterinarian.

Declawing is a surgical procedure in which a laser, scalpel or clippers is used to remove the claw and last bone of the cat's toes. It typically may be done on the front paws to prevent scratching of humans, other animals, furniture or carpets, or for medical reasons. In addition to nontherapeutic declawing, the bill also covers nontherapeutic tendonectomy and phalangectomy, which also involve an animal's claws. Debarking, or devocalizing, involves surgically cutting an animal’s vocal cords to reduce barking or other vocalizations.

"I had always thought that declawing was barbaric and shouldn't be done," Nava said in describing his reasons for introducing the legislation. "And the more I learned of it, the more apparent it became that this was a procedure being done for the convenience of people without any real thought to the consequences to the animal."

Nava had originally considered introducing a bill that would ban the practice of declawing in the state. But after meeting with groups interested in the issue -- including the Santa Monica-based Paw Project, the California Veterinary Medical Assn., other animal protection groups and a representative from the West Hollywood City Council -- he decided on this narrower measure.

"It was pretty clear that a statewide ban was going to engender a great deal of opposition and would jeopardize any progress in getting people to understand why I didn't favor the practice," Nava said.

AB 2743 would impose a civil penalty of not more than $2,500 to be paid to any individual affected by a violation of the law.

Nava, a candidate for state attorney general, is a member of the Legislature's new Animal Protection Caucus and an author of past animal-protection legislation, including a 2009 law that increases the penalties for spectators at dog fighting exhibitions.

How frequently do landlords require declawing or debarking? His office isn’t sure, but Nava says it may be more common than we think. Nava said that most people, when confronted with the choice of losing their housing or declawing their cat, would declaw their cat, even though "it just breaks their heart."

Carlton says the apartment association gets a lot of tenant calls, but she’s never heard a tenant complaint on the issue. Veterinarian Jennifer Conrad, director of the Paw Project, the animal advocacy group that is sponsoring the bill, says she gets an e-mail about once a month from someone asking for advice on dealing with a landlord who requires declawing. She offered examples of Craigslist rental ads specifying that only declawed cats would be allowed in units. She’s not sure how many landlords require dogs to be debarked.

In 2003, West Hollywood became the first California city to ban declawing. That ordinance was challenged by the California Veterinary Medical Assn. but upheld by the courts. Last summer, the California Legislature passed a law, sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Assn., giving the state authority over medical scope-of-practice issues and preventing cities and counties from passing ordinances banning medical procedures.

Before the law went into effect Jan. 1, seven cities -- Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Burbank, San Francisco and Berkeley -- passed ordinances banning declawing within their borders. Malibu adopted a resolution reaffirming its opposition to the practice, and Marin County passed a resolution calling for a statewide ban.

Devocalization has been banned except for therapeutic purposes in New Jersey and may not be done in Ohio on dogs considered vicious. The Massachusetts Legislature recently passed a bill that would make devocalizing a dog or a cat without medical cause a crime; the bill awaits signature on the governor’s desk.

AB 2743 will be heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, possibly in the next few weeks.

-- Anne Colby

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Photo credit: Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times 

Comments () | Archives (10)

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Let me see if I get this right.... because Assemblyman Nava doesn't like something, he wastes taxpayer time and money to try and get it banned? geez, I hope he doesn't dislike Dr Pepper, I could be in a world of hurt!

why doesn't he work on someothing important like child abuse?

'Devocalize'? What utter nonsense. The procedure does not remove all barking, it softens it. The dog has no clue that its bark now sounds different. This is what stupid laws do. Landlords that can't require bark softening/declawing will simply say no to all animals. And now you will have a lot of people trying to find a place to live - or dumping even more animals into shelters because they can no longer keep them. This is humane? California, you people are 'way out there'. I don't even want to visit, much less retire there.

I applaud the efforts of Assemblyman Nava to make Californian citizens treat pet animals with compassion and respect. Why should animals have their feet or vocal cords mutilated for the convenience of people too lazy to train them? What hope is there for stamping out acts of animal cruelty in society while vets are still encouraging pet owners to inflict cruelty on the very creatures they are meant to protect from harm?

Despite Mr Nunez claiming that the CVMA is not pro-declawing, they do very little to discourage people from declawing their cats or educate owners on how easy it actually is to teach a cat claw manners. Why would they, when it's a very lucrative source of additional revenue for them?

Debarking, declawing, ear-cropping etc., are all banned in European countries because the vets there have always refused to perform these procedures on the grounds that they consider them to be acts of animal cruelty. Only the USA, Canada and a few Middle Eastern countries allow such "mutilations" to continue. If literally millions of pet owners worldwide live happily with their pets without resorting to such horrific measures, why can't everyone else?

Nava really need to go. Sounds like he is strickly animal rights and not animal welfare. Has he worked on any more bills that did not have the name of an animal in them? I am sure he knows that sometimes hush barking keeps a dog in its home and alive but seems he has another agenda. I am sure he also knows that some breeds bark more than others. Seem like anything to separate owners from their pets.

Mary, honestly, I think we here in California will do just fine without you. Personally, I'm very proud to live in a state that's in the vanguard of protecting animal rights and advancing the humane agenda.

It makes no sense to require that cats be declawed (or, more accurately, de-toed) and dogs be debarked as a prior condition of renting. Certainly if an animal presents a serious nuisance due to noise or property damage (although I have cats with intact paws and they've never damaged anything belonging to my landlord) a landlord has the right to ask a tenant to be a responsible pet owner and curb nuisance behaviors, although this can certainly be done in more humane ways than surgery. But to require mutilating surgery as a pre-condition is ridiculous.

Bark softening is not mutilation any more than castration (neutering) or a hysterectomy (spaying) a dog. It's a quick, simple procedure with little risk other than those that normally accompany any surgery using general anesthesia.
Just as I am opposed to lawmakers telling me I cannot have a dog bark softened if necessary or that I must have my dog spayed or neutered, I am opposed to anyone forcing another to have their dog bark softened or their cat declawed. These are decisions that should be left to the pet owner and their veterinarian.

I think this is great. I've known of several dogs in my area that were were surgicall debarked and they all developed collapsed tracheas in later years. Coincidence - maybe. But why take the chance. California should be applauded for being a leader in animal welfare.

Oh - and not sure who thinks this is called Bark Softening. In the 20 years I've worked with animal groups - it's never been called that. If the dogs bark was a 10 before, it will be a 1 after surger. Softening - ok, if you want to call it that - but you are taking 90% of the bark away. Call it whatever you want. I think this surgery is dangerous.

Assemblyman Nava needs to spend a little less time shoving his nose into decisions that ought to be between pet owners and their vets, and more time figuring out how to get this state's fiscal house in order...by the way, I'm a fifth generation Californian and Mary is right that this state ain't what it used to be, and that's NOT a good thing!

If you can't deal with a dog that *gasp* barks, then don't get a dog. Period. If you can't put the time and energy into training your cat not to claw anything but their toys/scratching post, get a goldfish.

I'm sure if you asked the animals they wouldn't want their testicles and uterus ripped out. But that's a whole different issue. Banning these procedures is ridiculous and should be left up to the veterinarian and owner. Otherwise they will probably be performed illegally with not much regards to the animals safety. Every animal is different, and the ones that scratch will scratch, no matter how much you train. So what are the choices, someone loses an eye, they are put to sleep or dumped? I am disgusted that this became a law. I am a huge animal rights activist but feel this has way more negatives than positives. If even one child loses an eye for this it would be appalling.


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