Tabbies in Tewksbury, Cheshire cats, and the felines of Fitchburg live under a constant threat, worse even than the vacuum cleaner or an errant cucumber.
If their waitstaff — er, make that, their owners — have to move to a new apartment, a few landlords in Massachusetts still require tenants to declaw their pets.
It’s a practice that belongs in the litter box of history.
Overall, declawing is on the wane, as vets and cat owners come to realize that it’s both cruel and unnecessary. The procedure involves amputating a part of the cat’s front feet, and leads to a painful recovery and a lifetime of disfigurement. Some veterinary schools don’t teach declawing anymore, and shelters like the MSPCA require adoptive cat owners to promise not to mutilate their pets.
Many animal rights groups want to ban declawing entirely. New Jersey and New York are considering bans, and in some countries declawing is classified as a form of animal cruelty. In Israel, maiming a cat is even punishable by prison time.
“Vets should be educating people how to cope, not to take the easy route out,” said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a Tufts veterinary professor and member of the Paw Project, an anti-declawing group. Just buying a few scratching posts helps satisfy a cat’s natural desire to scratch. Products like Soft Claws, a nondestructive nail cap that attaches to a cat’s claw, can also prevent cats from damaging furniture.
Outlawing declawing is a discussion that Massachusetts should probably have sooner or later. There is some precedent: The Commonwealth banned debarking dogs in 2010.
In the meantime, though, the state can at least stop landlords from forcing tenants to choose between housing and their cat’s well-being. Rhode Island and California both require landlords to pick a side: They can either accept tenants with cats, in all their catness, or not. But there’s no forced paw amputations in Pawtucket, no cat abuse required in Catalina. Legislation was introduced in 2013 that would have granted similar protections to Massachusetts tenants, but it did not become law.
It’s possible that if landlords couldn’t insist on declawing, more of them might choose to ban cats entirely. That’s their right. But there’s no sign that Rhode Island or California cat owners have lost housing options since those states’ laws went into effect. And there are enough cat owners to provide a strong market incentive for landlords to accommodate them.
Landlords should be able to set reasonable rules at their properties, but not to require inhumane practices as a condition of tenancy. Such rental policies, thankfully, are becoming rarer. But those that remain need to be . . . de-claused.