Council votes to oppose cat declawing


After watching a graphic video of a cat declawing surgery that made residents, vets and city officials cringe during Monday’s city meeting, council members in a 3-2 vote directed staff to draft a written ordinance that would oppose the declawing of cats in Malibu.

However, the ordinance would not prohibit the declawing as originally intended by Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, who with Councilmember Jefferson Wagner voted to enact the law. Instead, it would state that the procedure only be used as a last resort and only to save the life of a cat.

The city will have until Jan. 1 to implement the ordinance. On that day, a state law will go into effect that will prohibit cities from limiting the practices of veterinary medicine.

The issue of declawing is highly controversial. Some call it a cruel mutilation while others see it as a simple solution to a cat that insists on scratching up the house. Veterinarians say there are many alternatives to declawing, such as training cats to use a scratching post. But there have also been cases where multiple efforts have been made and the owner is faced with the decision to declaw, abandon or euthanize the cat.

“I want to make very clear I’m opposed to declawing, but I’m also totally opposed to forcing someone to put their animal down,” Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky said at the meeting. “What if somebody has a baby and you have a scratching cat?

“Fifty percent of all cats in shelters are euthanized,” Barovsky continued. “Passing an outright ban seems like sentencing many cats to death. As far as I’m concerned, declawing should only be done to save the cat’s life.

Dr. Lisa Newell of Malibu Coast Animal Hospital told the city council, “I think it [the decision to declaw] should be left in the hands of medical professionals. I haven’t heard of one cruelty case from cat declawing. That’s not the way we do medicine here in Malibu. You’ve trusted us before.”

But another practicing house call vet said many vets that declaw cats are financially incentivized, as some make up to $1,000 per hour doing these procedures.

“The argument that these are vets that have a vested financial interest is the same argument you’d get with doctors making decisions on the healthcare policy and saying they shouldn’t be doing it because they have a vested financial interest,” Councilmember John Sibert, who owns a declawed cat, said. “If we create an ordinance, how do we enforce it? What kind of fine is there? A ban here in Malibu isn’t going to stop people from declawing, they’ll go over the hill. It’s symbolic, but I don’t think it would accomplish much.”

Councilmember Ulich, however, said the symbolism of passing the ordinance is very important.

“I think people will do what they want and go where they can, but they can’t do it in Malibu,” Conley Ulich said. “We banned smoking in Malibu. The consequence would be a misdemeanor. I’m not a cat, but if I were a cat I wouldn’t want to have my digits amputated. And maybe I would rather die than lay in pain the rest of my life.”

Councilmember Wagner refused to declaw his cat, and instead trained it to use a scratching post. He called declawing a “barbaric, sad practice” but said, “I know a lot of people’s incomes would be impounded if we banned it here.”

Though Mayor Andy Stern opposed the act of declawing, he warned the council members of possible litigation that could result from such an ordinance.

“I don’t think the city should be getting involved in this because right now, we’re talking about it, it’s emotional, but we have huge problems in the city and I think the people of Malibu would rather we focus our energies on the regional water board, the Coastal Commission and all the problems the city is facing.”