Cat declawing started around the middle of the 20th century by dogfighters who appeared to have declawed cats themselves and then thrown the cats to their dogs as “live bait” to warm them up for an impending fight. Then veterinarians appeared to have cottoned on to it, renamed it “onychectomy” to make it sound like some sort of wonderful and mysterious medical procedure and commercialised it to the maximum. That appears to be the origin of cat declawing. At least it is a theory. What is fact is that in the 1950s (believed 1952) a veterinarian adopted declawing professionally and it gained favor in America and grew from there until it became a part of the fabric of American life.
How did it come to this? First things first. Dogfighting is illegal and has been for sometime. It is firmly an underground pastime. It is hard to pin down and difficult to stop and prosecute people who participate in this gruesome sport. Obtaining clear, confirmed information about the role of cats in dog fighting is all but impossible. Please bear that in mind.
Elizabethan-era (1558–1603) dog-fighters started tail docking their dogs. The purpose was to prevent the dog showing, through body language, an intent to avoid a fight. Ears were then cropped to prevent dogs losing fights through bleeding ears. Tail docking was adopted by the dog fancy later. These amputations seemed to have begun the idea that a domestic animal’s anatomy could be modified to suit people.
By 1976 dogfighting was outlawed in all of the United States. Many states had banned dogfighting by the 1860s. However, it appears that it still happens quite a lot. In fact, it happens pretty much anywhere on the planet and is still legal in many countries. It is impossible to enforce the ban on dog-fighting in countries where it is banned.
Cats are still used as live bait in dog-fights. There is a ready supply of unwanted cats. If that supply is insufficient, cats are stolen off the street or adverts for free kittens etc are responded to. As recently as 27 March 2013 the BBC website reported on “Dog-fighting ‘bait'”. The author makes it clear that the dog-fighting bait stories are possibly an “urban myth”.
I think we can leave it there on dog-fighting and conclude that dog-fighting still happens quite a lot despite being illegal and thoroughly disgusting. We also know with some certainty that cats are still used as live bait as are puppies and rabbits.
Conclusion: dog-fighting created the concept of mutilation of the companion animal for human convenience. The cat was used as live bait at dog-fights. A cat will defend himself even under overwhelming odds and in the face of a terrible death. The cat will use his claws which could hurt a fighting dog. As the cat’s purpose was to simply get the dog in the mood for a fight or to test the dog, the dog fighting fraternity removed the cat’s claws making the cat defenseless. The dog killed the cat, smelled the blood and was in prime mood for the impending dog-fight just like an athlete warming up for a race. Veterinarians then stepped in to commercialize declawing.
If this sequence of events is true, it puts most of the blame for cat declawing on the shoulders of the American veterinarians. The other part of the blame falls on the cat caretakers. I have always said that whether cat declawing continues or not is in the hands of the vets. They are in charge. It seems it was always like that.
Note: I would like to thank Dee in Florida for pointing this out to me