MONTREAL -- Declawing, an obsolete practice of amputation of the last digit on a cat's paws, is still requested from pet owners.

Despite educational resources and a plethora of information on the detrimental consequences of this surgical amputation on the animal, the procedure continues.

In fact, some feline breeders still promote declawing as an option to people upon purchasing an animal. It's sometimes done before a cat is even a few months old, and before being spayed/neutered, forcing the animal to endure two surgeries.

The term “declaw” itself is a misnomer as it belittles what the action truly is, which is an orthopedic amputation of the last digit on the paws, not just taking off the nail. The human equivalent would be amputation at the last knuckle on the fingers and toes.

Dr. Jordyn Hewer, a veterinarian in Montreal, argues that we need to call it by a more accurate description, which is 'mutilation.' Perhaps if we called it by a name more true to the procedure itself, the weight of the word would carry more significance.

Cats who have had their toes amputated often have medical and behavioural problems throughout the rest of their life, and between 20 and 50 per cent have complications as a direct result of this surgery. The degree to which this is reported is diminished as cats are known to hide their pain well. Routine examinations that include paw assessments are not always conducted.

Further, animal welfare philosopher Bernard Rollin suggests we should not only be thinking about animals in terms of whether they experience pain and pleasure alone but their very being as a whole. He says “...thus, an adequate morality towards animals should address not only the pleasure and pain, but the full range of possible ‘matterings’ following from animals’ natures.”

He calls this the “telos”, or the nature of the animal. The “catness” of the cat, the “dogness” of the dog. Cats are born with, and very much need their claws.

A few years ago, the Montreal SPCA launched a petition calling on the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec (OMVQ) to end declawing and has more information about the consequences of the amputation.

The OMVQ considers the procedure to be not medically necessary, they focus on educating the public and verify that veterinarians discuss other options with pet owners before resorting to de-claw. Still, the amputations invariably continue.

Upon pressing the OMVQ about this issue, the very organization that regulates the practice of veterinary medicine in Quebec was met with a disheartening response.

“I can confirm that the Order will not be joining your efforts to ban the practice of declawing,” says Patricia Noel, director of communications at the OMVQ.

Because they do not have power to legislate, the best option is to refer to the MAPAQ, Noel says, which is a body responsible for regulating the legislation for animal welfare in Quebec.

The procedure of Partial Digital Amputation, or declawing, is in direct opposition to the current law, under the Animal Safety and Welfare Act: Chapter II Section 5 and 6, which states that the safety and welfare of the animal are presumed to be compromised when it doesn’t receive the proper care to its biological requirements, and that no one can cause an animal to be in distress.

However, section 7 says “Section 5 and 6 do not apply in the case of… veterinary medicine activities… in accordance with generally recognized rules.”

Why does this continue to legally happen, then? What are the generally recognized rules? The law seems to be up for interpretation, and it isn’t clear who can make such an interpretation.

The MAPAQ’s advice: change the law, specifically, to ban the practice of declawing, or PDA. How? Contact your local MNA’s office.

Hope remains as the Association des médecins vétérinaires du Québec (AVMQ)’s animal welfare committee has adopted a position statement against declawing and is planning to contact the MAPAQ for a ban on the practice.

In this case, we the public can work together with the support of the veterinary associations in putting this archaic practice behind us.

If you want to join the community of more than 40,000 other Quebecers in putting in a motion to ban the procedure by emailing your MNA. Let them know you wish this practice to be banned, and to get this motion up for legislation as soon as possible. There are many veterinarians who will support this cause with medical evidence to back it up.

“There will always be people who will do it, there will always be people who will want it done, unless there’s a ban in place,” said Hugh Chisholm, a retired veterinarian who has advocated for a declawing ban for years. “That’s why we do need the ban. Because one declaw is one too many.”

- Alexandra Yaksich is a writer and veterinary technician in Montreal.