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In New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime to declaw cats. If it passes, New Jersey would be the first state in the country to ban the practice. The bill has sharply divided veterinarians. Critics call it painful and barbaric, but some vets say the surgery can prevent cats from being abandoned. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Veterinarian Gordon Stull introduces me to one of his patients - a gray and white rescue cat named Queen Elizabeth (ph).
GORDON STULL: That's Queen Elizabeth.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)
STULL: She's a really sweet cat.
ROSE: When Stull graduated from veterinary school more than 40 years ago, he says declawing was routine.
STULL: I did it for a while, and it started to bother me.
ROSE: Why? What bothered you?
STULL: It just seemed like this is not a procedure I should be doing because it's not helping the animal. It's a convenient for the client, and it's a mutilation.
ROSE: Declawing is an amputation. It removes part of the cat's toe bones along with the nail. And a lot of vets say they don't like to do it, including Stull's boss at the Atlantic Animal Health Center in south Jersey, Lori Nordt.
LORI NORDT: So we recommend things for cats to scratch or trying to address the problem without having to do the declaw. I'm totally in support of banning it.
ROSE: That's exactly what New Jersey Assemblyman Troy Singleton wants to do. He introduced a bill that would make declawing illegal except to protect the health of the cat.
TROY SINGLETON: I personally think declawing is a pretty barbaric practice. It's more of a matter of convenience as opposed to anything dealing with the physical well-being of the animal.
ROSE: Singleton's bill goes far beyond the guidelines of professional veterinary organizations, too far for some vets.
JOSE PLA: This room here is our surgical prep. That's where we sterilize.
ROSE: Jose Pla is a veterinarian in north Jersey who thinks declawing should be rare but legal.
PLA: I think that it is a surgery that has its place to help certain cats be able to enjoy a loving relationship with their owners. It is a surgery that should only be done as a last resort.
ROSE: In cases where the cat does serious damage to humans and or property. But Pla says banning the practice altogether would be a mistake. When declawing is done properly and with modern pain medicine, he says it's not as bad as its critics claim.
PLA: It is an amputation, but these cats, with modern surgical techniques, are going home the same day - no bandages, walking.
ROSE: Still, declawing is outlawed across much of Europe and several cities in California. Some veterinarians in California warned that more cats would be abandoned and could wind up being euthanized as a result. But the numbers don't bear that out. Veterinarian Gordon Stull says that might be because declawing can lead to biting and other undesirable behaviors.
STULL: I've seen many patients that have been declawed that are having behavioral issues.
ROSE: The New Jersey bill passed the state Assembly last month, but it still has to claw its way through the state senate before it lands on the governor's desk. Joel Rose, NPR News, Galloway, N.J.