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Cat Claws

A cat named Rubio walks in front of the podium during a news conference on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. New York would be the first state to ban the declawing of cats under a legislative proposal that has divided veterinarians. Britain, Australia and several cities in California already ban the practice, which involves amputating portions of a cat's paws. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ST. LOUIS — A national effort by some animal-welfare advocates to prohibit the declawing of cats has reached the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, on Friday introduced a bill that would make it illegal for veterinarians in the city to conduct such operations unless medically necessary for the animal.

“The surgery is really intrusive and can be very painful,” she said.

Ingrassia said most people who declaw cats do so to try to keep them from scratching but that there are other methods that can be used to deal with that.

The declawing ban is part of a bill that also would make other changes in city rules for pets. She said she worked on the bill with the city Health Department.

Earlier this year, New York became the first state in the United States to ban cat declawing operations, which involve amputating a cat’s toes back to the first knuckle. Declawing cats also is illegal in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver and in much of Europe.

Richard Antweiler, executive director of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, said the St. Louis measure would be the first in the state.

One supporter is Anne Schweitzer of the Holly Hills neighborhood, who volunteers with two animal rescue groups. “It’s important for cities to root out cruelty wherever possible,” she said.

Another backer is Weng Horak, the CEO of CARE STL — a nonprofit that operates the city’s animal shelter.

“We receive many, many cats who have been abandoned on the streets to fend for themselves when their owners no longer want to or are unable to care for them,” Horak said in an email. “If these cats are declawed, they have no way of defending themselves against predators and other cats.”

No organized opposition has surfaced here yet.

But in New York, the state veterinary medical society opposed a ban, arguing that declawing should be allowed as a last resort in some circumstances for felines that won’t stop scratching furniture or people .

The society also said people with weakened immune systems could be put at a greater risk of infection from a cat scratch.

Some New York lawmakers opposed to the bill said they worried that more cats might be given up for adoption or euthanized because their owners would no longer be able to get them declawed.

“I don’t think government should be involved,” said one Republican state senator, Robert Antonacci. “I think we should leave it to the vets and the owners.”

Antweiler of the Missouri veterinary society said it hasn’t taken a position on proposed government bans and that veterinarians’ opinions are mixed on doing the surgery.

He said a majority of Missouri veterinarians perform declawing but a large minority do not because of their own concerns and “public perception.” The Missouri director of one national group pushing for declawing bans, the Paw Project, is an O’Fallon veterinarian.

Antweiler said the Missouri society stands by a policy statement adopted by the American Veterinary Medical Association. It says declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the animal from using its claws destructively or when clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owners.

Ingrassia, who has a cat and two foster cats, which have their claws, said some people may ask why aldermen should take up such an issue when “we have so many other things to worry about” in the city.

“But it is important to a lot of people,” she said. “I think the way that we care for animals and kids sometimes is really indicative of how we take care of the rest of our constituency.”

Her bill also would add to a city ordinance requiring dog and cat owners to protect them from extreme temperatures. The measure would bar owners from leaving their dog or cat outside and unattended during official heat or cold advisories or when temperatures and or heat and cold indices fall below 32 degrees or rise to above 93.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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