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Schwarzenegger vetoes landlord-renter declawing-debarking bill

by Anne ColbyLA Times
October 1st, 2010

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal in California for landlords to require pet owners to declaw or devocalize their animals as a condition of tenancy. 

In his veto statement, the governor said, "I support the goal of this bill, which would preclude landlords from making inappropriate medical decisions as a condition of occupancy. However, I cannot sign a measure that contains findings and declarations by the Legislature that are unsupported by science. In addition, this measure suggests that declawing should be prohibited for any 'non-therapeutic' reason, which would include the legitimate medical needs of a pet owner. Regrettably, this bill goes too far in attempting to deal with inappropriate demands by landlords."

Declawing is a surgical procedure in which the claws and last bones of an animal's toes are removed to prevent the animal from scratching. Devocalizing, or debarking, involves surgically cutting an animal's vocal cords to reduce barking or other vocalizations.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), the author of AB 2743, said via e-mail: 'I am very disappointed that the Governor vetoed my bill. Declawing and devocalization are complex surgeries that can have severe complications for animals, and emotional and financial consequences for pet owners. Cats often change their behavior in unacceptable ways after being declawed and some dogs develop scar tissue that interferes with their ability to eat. Sometimes these procedures are performed routinely."

Dr. Dean Henricks, president of the California Veterinary Medical Assn., which represents more than 6,000 veterinary medical professionals, said his group was "pleased" with the governor's action and he applauded him for taking a stand on it. In a Sept. 2 letter to Schwarzenegger asking him to veto the bill, CVMA wrote that the organization supported the goal of the bill but had concerns with language in it that it deemed "unnecessary and problematic."

This language included a statement that declawing has been associated with ...

... unintended behavioral consequences that could lead to potential public health and safety concerns, such as increased aggression or litter box avoidance. "CVMA can see no relationship between a cat declaw procedure and the impact on public health and safety," the letter said.

The group also objected to what it said were new definitions for "declawing," "devocalizing" and "nontherapeutic," which it said would invite debate and controversy. CVMA said it believed that "precedent-setting language" would mean that an "elderly or immunocompromised person, who cannot risk being scratched, could not have a cat." The veterinary group said in the letter that it had tried to reach an agreement with the bill's sponsors but had been unable to do so.

Dr. Jennifer Conrad, director of the Santa Monica-based Paw Project, which sponsored the bill, said in an e-mail: "The Governor was misinformed by the CVMA about the lack of scientific evidence. The CVMA must not be reading the articles published in the Journal of the AVMA [American Veterinary Medical Assn.]. How is it not scientific when there's a paper out of Cornell that states 33% of cats that were declawed had behavior problems after declawing? He was further misled by the notion that declawing cats is necessary to protect human health. Neither the CDC nor the US Public Health Service recommend declawing the cats of people with compromised immune systems."

AB 2743 would have prohibited a landlord from advertising or establishing rental policies in a manner that required a tenant or potential tenant with an animal to have it declawed or devocalized, for nontherapeutic purposes, as a condition of occupancy. The measure would have imposed a civil penalty of not more than $1,000 for each violation to be paid to the person or entity that brought the action.

"Through hard work, we were able to reach a compromise that was acceptable to California apartment building owners and animal lovers," Nava said. "The only opposition to my measure came from those with a financial interest in performing these surgeries, which are increasingly being viewed as outdated and cruel."

The state veterinary group says that declawing should be kept available as an alternative to abandonment or euthanasia, and that current surgical techniques and anesthesic and pain medication have greatly reduced the discomfort associated with the operation.

The California Apartment Assn., a Sacramento group that represents more than 50,000 rental property owners, managers and industry professionals, supported the bill.

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