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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

HUD Needs a Clause on Claws

Public housing can be extremely difficult to obtain, with many families in need stuck on waiting lists for months or even years. For those with cats, the relief of acquiring public housing is quickly replaced by dread when they face an unthinkable choice: have their cat declawed or find kitty another home. Forcing tenants to declaw their cats is one of the most extreme pet policies on the books, and increasingly rare in apartment buildings. It’s not only an inhumane mutilation of the cat, but also creates a financial burden and takes choices about responsible pet care away from public housing residents.

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A bipartisan group of 51 members of Congress, led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is working to make sure that families and their beloved cats won’t be put in these situations. They wrote to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, urging him to prohibit public housing authorities (PHAs) from requiring residents to declaw their cats. HUD does not mandate declawing, but individual PHAs may legally do so in their pet policies. The fact that some PHAs are forcing residents to choose between a costly, cruel mutilation or giving up their companion leads to a patchwork of inconsistent rules, and can be easily remedied with a change to current HUD regulations.

Declawing is a cruel, expensive, medically unnecessary, and painful procedure, involving the amputation of the last bone on each toe. Despite common misperceptions, declawing a cat is not analogous to a snake that sheds its skin or a tarantula that molts its shell. To put it in human terms, it would entail amputating a finger at the last knuckle. Moreover, veterinarians recommend it as medically necessary only in the most drastic circumstances, such as when certain types of cancer are present.

Further, declawing is an ineffective and often counterproductive method for protecting property. Left with sensitive paw pads, many cats develop other destructive behavior issues, such as biting or urinating outside the litter box. Instead of spending their time ensuring that all resident cats are declawed, housing managers at PHAs would save themselves considerable time and grief by instead referring residents to animal welfare groups that can provide residents with appropriate scratching equipment and behavior advice.

For the majority of people living in public housing, this policy serves as a de facto ban on cats as scarce resources mean that they can’t find other affordable, cat-friendly housing nor can they pay for the expensive declaw procedure.

With the growing public concern over the cruelty of declawing, the procedure has been banned in 28 countries including Australia, Brazil, and much of Europe. In the U.S., several cities have banned declawing, California prohibits landlords from imposing declawing as a requirement for residents, and the New York state legislature is considering a declawing bill in 2016.

This would not be the first time HUD has stepped in and banned PHAs from requiring veterinary procedures that are cruel and medically unnecessary. HUD regulations already prohibit PHAs from requiring dogs to be devocalized, and that existing policy could easily be extended to prevent PHAs from requiring cats to be declawed.

We are grateful to the members of Congress who are standing up for cats and the families who love them, and we urge HUD to adopt this policy swiftly. Without any legitimate property protection purpose, a formal notice to PHAs that they cannot force residents to put their pets through an inhumane, painful, and expensive procedure should be an easy call for HUD.

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