Oregon Looks To Ban Pet Debarking, Declawing

In the last five years, several states have taken up regulating or banning surgeries to declaw cats or devocalize dogs, also known as “debarking” or ventriculocordectomy.

Now it’s Oregon’s turn to wrestle with the issue.

Debarking is illegal in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Several California cities, including Los Angeles, have banned declawing outright.

The Oregon Legislature is considering House Bill 3494-A, which would prohibit declawing or devocalizing cats or dogs in Oregon except in the case of “medical necessity” or when efforts to change a pet’s behavior have failed.

Many vets have testified or written in support of the bill, but just as many animal rights supporters have gone against it, saying the bill “legitimizes” the procedures. “This bill is not a ‘ban’ on declawing,” writes Carla Hevert, a Eugene resident who submitted testimony, “but an avenue that would actually legitimize the unnecessary practice.”

Declawing cats means snipping off the ends of the toe bones to prevent future claw growth. Devocalization or debarking dogs involves removing tissue from the dog’s vocal cords by going through the animal’s mouth or an incision in the throat. According to Texas A&M University, it can result in scarring that is “severe enough to restrict airflow.”

As defined in the current bill, “medically necessary” debarking or declawing can be done to relieve a pet’s pain (as in an injury or abnormality where the surgery could help) or because all efforts to stop the behavior have failed (excessive barking or destructive scratching).

Bill sponsor Rep. Brent Barton (D-Gladstone) says, “If this bill passes, Oregon will lead the country in terms of protections for dogs and cats.”

He adds, “I’m a softie when it comes to animals, especially cats. It’s kind of embarrassing actually.”

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) is neutral on the current bill. It says that the issue should be left to each vet’s discretion, and better training for dogs and cats or changing a pet’s environment are usually the best options. Regularly trimming cat’s nails and certain corrective collars for dogs are other options, according to OVMA.

“This bill started out as stopping landlords from requiring residents declaw their cats,” says Sharon Harmon, executive director of the Oregon Humane Society.  She says after that failed, “we all started thinking about a broader change in the state law.”

Though the Oregon Humane Society supports HB 3494, Harmon says the legislation is moving faster than the education. “Many people don’t understand that declawing isn’t clipping nails, it’s an amputation,” she says. “But a lot of people have no idea and love their cats and don’t think they’re harming them.”

HB 3494-A must pass out of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Early Childhood June 4 or die.