Does the Internet need another rant on declawing?

OF COURSE IT DOES.

So my very good friend J has a declawed cat, whom he’d adopted AFTER the procedure had been done. Sebastian is gorrrrrrrgeous—he’s 16 pounds of pure leonine muscle,  and he’s kind of a slut. (I like my women the way I like my cats? So many directions you can take with this opening. Like I did with your mom. OH HO HO HO.) Seriously, now. Sebastian is one of my favorite cats. He’ll come pin you down with his beautiful furry bod (and Sebastian has a LOT of fur and a LOT of bod) and roll over for tummy rubs, then let loose the tiniest, squeakiest of purrs. You can pet Sebastian everywhere and mess with him six ways to Sunday—you can fondle his armpits, spank his butt, yank a bit on his tail, grab his hind paws, pick him up and snorgle his ruff and his forehead, and he takes it all and loves it, just like a good little subby boy should. But he does not like having his front paws touched. He doesn’t bite or strike out or anything. He flinches, looks kind of hurt, and then huffs off.

He’s not a young cat—he’s about five or six years old—and the procedure was done as a kitten. It says a lot that the declawing still discomforts him after all these years.

J and I have talked about the declawing a bit, and J’s opinion is that declawing is generally wrong and not something you should do lightly, but Sebastian is such a big cat that declawing may have been justified because if he hit, say, a frail, older person or a little kid with a paw with claws out, that person would be in for a world of hurt. Some cats, according to J, don’t know their own strength, so for the safety of the family, declawing some cats for that reason is OK.

Now, I want y’all to keep in mind that J is a great cat owner, and that if it had been up to him, Sebastian almost definitely would never have been declawed. He loves Sebastian more than just about anything, and Sebastian is one of the most important priorities in his life. They’re best buddies. That still doesn’t change the fact that I think J’s justification for declawing is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and is in fact one of the greatest fallacies people have used to make declawing OK.

Declawing done for non-medical reasons, with a few exceptions, is almost always done because:

1) The owner can’t be arsed to train the cat properly on appropriate claw usage, claw clipping and other non-surgical answers to living and playing with a miniature predator with many sharp bits; furthermore, they oftentimes don’t know how to JUST LET THE DAMN CAT BE WHEN IT DOESN’T WANT TO BE MESSED WITH, and they don’t know how to train their kids to do the same;

2) The owner has misconceptions about the trainability of cats and really doesn’t believe that a cat can be trained in appropriate claw usage (plus all those bits about not knowing how to read cat body language and when to leave a cat be); and/or

3) The owner has no idea what a traumatic surgery declawing is—the vet didn’t educate her on what the procedure entails, or she didn’t bother to research it, or she figured, because of the term, that it’s really just removing claws as opposed to multiple amputations. Most people still don’t know, for example, that declawing affects the way a cat moves: cats put their weight on the tips of their paws. The analogy anti-declawers love to use is to compare declawing with amputating our fingers off at the tips, but it’s more severe than that, because we don’t use our fingers as weight-bearers, while cats do. A better comparison would be severing the heels from our feet and having to adjust to walking with crippled Achilles tendons and a lifetime of tiptoeing. We also don’t use the tips of our fingers as an essential way to build our back muscles—cats claw not only to mark territory and not only because it feels good, but because it gives them a really good stretch and full-body work-out. These two reasons are why most declawed cats walk with that weird, characteristic hunch as they get older: not only do their muscles have to compensate in weird ways for their new, completely unnatural gait, they experience some muscle atrophy from being unable to adequately exercise certain parts of their back.

But my stance on declawing is ultimately one based on a moral foundation (and that’s leaving aside all of the well-documented evidence that declawing often causes more problems than it solves for both family and cat): if you want to take a meat-eating animal with a high prey drive and a multitude of pointy bits into your home, then your responsibility is to provide that living thing with the best care you can, to the best ability you can. That means putting up with inconveniences and making a commitment to training the cat properly, as well as accepting the fact that if you can’t or won’t train the cat properly, then you need to live with the consequences and SUCK IT UP. For example: I’ve been half-assed in training Callisto about clawing the couch, and completely non-assed in teaching any of my cats about jumping on counters or tables because I’m just not bothered enough about the issue. This means I’ll have a less-than-perfect couch (easily solved by buying a sturdy couch cover, which, besides protecting the couch from claws, also helps protect it from cat hair oh god the cat hair), and I’ll occasionally have to chase down a piece of chocolate, keys, a D20 or other small, smackable thing I’ve left on the table that the cats decided were a perfect toy. (If I’d wanted perfect furniture, pristine counter surfaces and a life free of having to crawl around looking for yet another thing knocked under the couch or the butcher block, I would’ve bought an aquarium and a bunch of cichlids, instead of sharing my life with a bunch of meowing, pooping, clawing, biting predators who take very opportunity to cover me with love, drool and cat hair in equal measure.) I’m still in the process of teaching Callisto not to freak out and claw and bite when I accidentally touch her in a place she doesn’t like, which is a longer process that I’m really invested in seeing through because she’s a bit rough with her warning bites and because she’s a friggin’ diva with a quick temper and a flair for melodrama.

Ultimately, these cat problems are all communication issues. The solutions all have to do with learning how to communicate with the cat. It’s a bit tricky, because I don’t speak Cat particularly well, and all I have are a series of cryptic commands and reinforcements to the cat for good behavior and occasional punishments for bad, but it can be done. And during the training period, to help deal with the occasional fits of asshole behavior from Callisto, I clip her claws. (If you want to get all fancy, you can even use the vinyl nail caps.) The solution is almost never going to be “take away an essential part of a cat that is in fact one of the essences of cat-ness just so I can avoid X or the eventuality of X.” And that’s why I disagree so strongly with J. Yes, a kid can get smacked by a cat giving a warning swipe with its claws, and by God it’ll hurt if the cat is strong and has aimed well. It’s not the end of the world. Teach the cat not to use her claws, and even more importantly, teach the kid how to read the cat and treat her with respect. Some people act as if declawing is the only solution to protect their furniture and their kids, but hey, guess what: if you have a quick-tempered cat who’s fast with the claws, if you remove the claws, you’re going to end up with a quick-tempered cat with chronic pain who’s going to be fast with the teeth.  How’s that for an awesome trade-off?

Think about it this way: let’s say I have a kid. This hypothetical kid has inherited his mother’s terrible depth perception and non-existent hand-eye coordination, AND he’s huge, with a penchant for temper tantrums. He’s a friggin’ bull in a friggin’ china shop; all my glassware and tchotchkes are laid to waste at the terrifying scourge of his knees and elbows. Which solution should I choose?

1) Patiently teach him how to move more slowly and carefully over time—to be aware of his size and strength, and that he should be more mindful about where and how he moves his body—and that temper tantrums aren’t a productive way to deal with issues.

2) Cut some tendons on his arms so he has limited arm mobility, while leaving him with enough function to perform most everyday things.

Option 2 is a non-option for me, just as declawing is a non-option. Don’t solve communication issues with surgery. It’s just plain nonsensical.

2 comments to Does the Internet need another rant on declawing?

  • Joy Coleman

    I have missed you and your wonderful posts! So glad you’re back.

  • Cameron S

    I don’t think there is any correlation between what you observed and the declawing. My 3 year old hasn’t been declawed and she has pretty much the same response you described if anyone ever touches her paws. I think that response is engrained in their nature.