When I was fifteen, my mother had our cat declawed. In addition to destroying the furniture, Annabelle the cat scratched my three-year-old sister severely enough to draw blood. My mother, however, was not a cruel woman. In the eighties declawing was considered a routine procedure. No one thought twice about it.
Declawing had the desired effect of protecting our furniture and my young sister, but it also had a profound effect on Annabelle. In addition to being in a great deal of pain initially (I remember my mother crying about it), it changed her personality. She became less trusting, more withdrawn and fearful. She no longer liked to be picked up and cuddled. I truly believe that declawing Annabelle altered her not just physically, but mentally.
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Nowadays, many of us know that declawing isn’t a simple procedure. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “Declawing traditionally involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.” Because of this, and the changes I witnessed firsthand in Annabelle, I made the decision never to declaw another cat of mine.
Fast forward to last year when my husband and I decided to adopt another cat. We found the perfect addition to our family in Smudge.
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He is one of the sweetest, most laid-back cats I’ve ever known. He’s funny and playful and outgoing. He loves to curl up on my lap and be scratched under his chin.
He is also declawed on all four paws.
All. Four. Paws.
To which I say, “What the hell?”
For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would do that to their cat. And I can’t grasp why any reputable veterinarian would agree to the procedure.
Declawing the front paws is bad enough. But declawing all four feet is a whole other level of cruelty in my opinion.
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I had never been around a cat without any claws at all and didn’t think much about it until we got him home. It quickly became apparent that this procedure took away part of what makes Smudge a cat.
How so? Here are four big ways:
1. He can’t balance well
Is there anything more amazing than watching a cat do a balancing act on an impossibly small surface? Smudge can’t. While cats mainly rely on their tails for balance, the claws are essential for gripping the surface, especially if a cat starts to fall. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has stopped as I watched Smudge walk along the back of the couch, lose his footing and simply fall off. That just shouldn’t happen to a cat. Ever.
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2. He walks funny
Cats are graceful creatures; the way they move, the way they run, the way they stalk. Anatomically, they’re supposed to walk on the tips of their toes. Declawing makes this impossible and forces them to walk flat-footed on the pads of their feet. And when a cat is declawed on all four paws, his movements don’t resemble a cat’s at all. I never get used to the way Smudge moves. It’s more of a lope than a stride. On slick surfaces, he can’t run without slipping, sliding and falling, and he won’t chase toys unless he’s on carpet or a piece of furniture. And since the total lack of claws has altered his anatomy so completely, he is likely to experience health problems like arthritis down the road.
3. He can’t jump
Cats have the remarkable ability to jump anywhere from five to seven times their tail length. By this measure, Smudge should be able to jump at least four feet. He can’t jump more than two. This is because cats rely on their hind legs and claws to push off. Since Smudge is flat-footed and has nothing to grip with, he is unable to accomplish that most amazing of cat feats. We’ve done what we can to help him explore higher places in the house, like strategically placing chairs and pet steps. But there is something extremely unfair when our 14-year-old cat can easily jump onto the kitchen counter and our six-year-old cat can’t.
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4. He can’t defend himself
Our other cat Abby was less than thrilled when we brought Smudge home. We did slow introductions but there were still a few scuffles along the way. These scared the crap out of me, much more than if Smudge had at least had his back claws. Even now, Abby sometimes decides she just doesn’t like the way Smudge looks. She runs up to him, hissing and swiping at him with her paw. All Smudge can do is lay back his ears, hiss and hope. Luckily, Abby is never serious about attacking him. She just wants to put him in his place. But if she wanted to hurt him, there would be no way for Smudge to fight back. He seems to know this and I think he’s much less confident around Abby because of it. He is utterly defenseless and that is a completely unnatural and terrible state for a cat to be in.
Like most animals, Smudge is resilient and he’s adjusted to his handicap. He is a happy, sweet boy and doesn’t know anything different. Still, the fact that he can’t do many of the things a cat should be able to do both makes me angry and breaks my heart. He should be able to jump. He should be able to run. He should be able to defend himself. But he can’t. When they took away his claws, they took away part of what makes him a cat. And all because someone was most likely worried about their furniture and because some veterinarian didn’t have the scruples to say no.
Your turn: What’s your take on declawing? Tell us in the comments.
Photo: Close-up of cat paw with claws out by Shutterstock