The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the veterinary practice of declawing cats within city limits, making it a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
Calling it a "horrific" procedure that benefits only the owner of the cat, Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who co-authored the law with Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, said in passing the law Berkeley stays true to its "history of being humane to all its creatures."
"It's a complex and painful procedure — you remove the bone at the end of the paw — and it's only for the benefit of the owner," Arreguin said.
San Francisco passed a similar law Nov. 3.
The Berkeley law passed despite the objections of the California Veterinary Medical Association.
Veterinarian Carl Singer, of Hayward, who represents the association, said members are against the ban on cat declawing because it will take away a decision that should be available to the cat owner and the vet.
"I don't like to declaw cats, but I don't want the choice to be taken away from vets," Singer said. "There are circumstances where I would rather declaw a cat than have to kill it."
But other vets came to the council meeting and spoke in favor of the ban.
"A survey of Southern California veterinarians showed that 95 percent of vets are declawing cats to protect furniture," veterinarian Jennifer Conrad said. "I urge you to protect cats in your city. It's an amputation of the last bone in the cat's toe."
Retired veterinarian Jean Hofve regrets the times she declawed cats.
"I declawed hundreds of cats and it is horrible, cruel and inhumane," Hofve said. "After declawing cats develop behavior problems, biting and litter box avoidance problems. To create a situation where more cats are likely to bite is unconscionable."
A report to the council said cat owners usually have one of two procedures done to remove their cat's claws to prevent the cat from clawing at personal property or causing minor personal injury.
One procedure is "10 separate painful amputations" called onychectomy where the "last bone of each toe is amputated," the report stated. In human terms that is "analogous to cutting off each finger at the last joint," the report added.
A second procedure for removing cats' claws, called a tendonectomy, removes a "portion of the flexor tendon in each of a cat's toes, thus preventing the cat from being able to extend the claws."
Both procedures can cause infection, abscess, hemorrhage, arthritis and "painful regrowth of deformed claws," the report said.