The Tacoma City Council voted Tuesday to ban cat declawing, except when conducted by a licensed veterinarian for a therapeutic purpose.
The move will make Tacoma the first city in Washington to outlaw the procedure known medically as feline onychectomy.
Leading up to the vote, Councilmember John Hines said the time was right to "choose cats, not couches," referring to cat owners who have their pets declawed in order to protect their furniture from being scratched.
Tacoma will join a number of other U.S. cities and states in taking the step, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New York and Maryland, according to a City Council news release after Tuesday's meeting that described declawing as inhumane. Many countries around the globe have banned declawing, as well.
Washington has one of the highest rates of cat ownership in the U.S., and there are about 50,000 household cats in Tacoma, according to a council memo that pointed to products like nail trimmers, scratching posts, nail covers and furniture protectors as safe alternatives to declawing, also mentioning that animal trainers can help deal with cat behaviors.
"I'm incredibly proud that the City Council has passed this ban on nontherapeutic cat declawing and that Tacoma takes animal welfare issues seriously. We have received an incredible outpouring of support from the community for this ban," Hines said in the news release after sponsoring the ordinance with colleagues Olgy Diaz and Sarah Rumbaugh.
"It is important that people understand that declawing a cat is painful and traumatic for the animal," he said. "We simply cannot allow cats to be subjected to this procedure without a medical reason."
Declawing is a major surgery where a cat's claws and third phalanges (the toe bones that the claws grow out of) are amputated, according to the council's news release, which compared it to amputating human fingers at their knuckles. The procedure can result in paw pain, infection, nerve damage and disability, impairing a cat's ability to walk properly while also negatively impacting a cat's emotional well-being, the release said.
The procedure can be medically necessary in certain cases, like when a cat has a cancerous tumor or has severely injured a paw. But Tacoma's ban won't interfere with surgeries like that, the council's release said.
The new ordinance will take effect March 31, 2024, and violations will be considered civil infractions carrying a penalty of up to $250. The council considered making violations a crime, but a crime could be difficult to enforce and raise equity concerns, the council's memo said.
The council got interested in the issue after a resident shared about negative experiences with declawing, the memo said.
The Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County supported the ban, comparing declawing to the docking of dog ears and tails, which is illegal in Washington. Calling herself "an avid pet lover and former cat mom," Diaz said the ban will "stop the animal cruelty caused by cat declawing."