It is useful to specify the exact reason why it is illegal to declaw a cat in the United Kingdom. This is because it informs us that it would be extremely easy to make it illegal in the United States from a legislative standpoint. It is not complicated. The obstacle in making declawing illegal in the United States is that the people of North America don’t want it to be illegal (the opposite is the case in Great Britain). Cat owner’s and veterinarian’s want to keep it. Vets consistently resist change and attempts to ban declawing. They lobby politicians, the law makers, to encourage them to maintain the status quo. There is a surprising difference in attitude between American and British veterinarians. It makes me wonder where that difference comes from.
In the United Kingdom we have a brilliant piece of statutory legislation. It is the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It sets the standard for animal care and specifies what is criminal behaviour in relation to a person’s treatment of an animal either directly, in directing someone else or allowing it to happen when responsible for an animal.
Picture above: this lovely ginger tabby lives in the UK and he is concerned for his USA brothers and sisters.
The part of the Act that covers the operation of declawing is section 5 (1) (a) and (b) and section 5 (3). I have highlighted the text in red below based on a cat’s owner instructing a vet to declaw their cat; the classic example of how declawing happens in the USA.
The Act does not say, ‘declawing cats is illegal and a crime’. The language is less specific – but specific enough – in order that it can cover other procedures that might take place in the future or unforeseen events.
Here is the wording of the section 5:
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he carries out a prohibited procedure on a protected animal;
(b) he causes such a procedure to be carried out on such an animal.
(2) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he is responsible for an animal,
(b) another person carries out a prohibited procedure on the animal, and
(c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening.
(3) References in this section to the carrying out of a prohibited procedure on an animal are to the carrying out of a procedure which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment.
(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply in such circumstances as the appropriate national authority may specify by regulations.
(5) Before making regulations under subsection (4), the appropriate national authority shall consult such persons appearing to the authority to represent any interests concerned as the authority considers appropriate.
(6) Nothing in this section applies to the removal of the whole or any part of a dog’s tail.
What the wording in red says is that if a person asks a veterinarian to declaw their cat and he acts on the request it is an offence (a crime) because declawing is a prohibited procedure as it involves interfering with ‘sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal for non-therapeutic purposes ( i.e not for the animal’s medical treatment). Also the vet commits a crime as he carries out the prohibited procedure (section 5 (1)(a)). The vet is also in breach of his guidelines and code of practice.
There are specific exceptions to the prohibition on mutilations by a veterinarian but none apply to the cat. There is one general exception; that a mutilation can take place in an emergency. As this would never apply to a request to declaw by the cat’s ‘owner’, declawing for the convenience of the owner is absolutely barred.
The entire Act is quite short and written in plain language. What is interesting is that the Act was not required to stop declawing because it was not happening. It is not and never has been ‘on the radar’. Vets in the UK consider it an act of animal cruelty. Although there must have been the odd instance of it taking place.
The veterinarian’s guide also prohibits declawing (see below selected part):
Guide to Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons 1C.
Your responsibilities to your patients
h. a veterinary surgeon must not cause any patient to suffer
i. by carrying out any unnecessary mutilation
1G. Your responsibilities under the law
1. Veterinary Surgeons should be sufficiently familiar with and comply with relevant legislation including: b. the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Note: Wikipedia quote a section of the Vet’s Guide but I can’t see it on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon’s website so I have not included it here.
The crime of unnecessary mutilation carries a maximum of 51 weeks in jail on conviction and/or a max. fine of £20,000.
Picture by raider of gin on Flickr