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San Francisco Chronicle

Judge allows California cities to ban cat declawing

Thursday, October 11, 2007

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The state Supreme Court allowed cities in California to ban cat declawing Wednesday, rejecting veterinarians' challenge to a West Hollywood ordinance that could lead to copycat measures elsewhere.

The ordinance, which West Hollywood passed in 2003, is the only one of its kind in the state. San Francisco, where the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution the same year condemning the declawing of cats, filed legal arguments in an appellate court supporting the Southern California city.

Although declawing is legal in San Francisco, the city's animal shelter asks prospective cat owners whether they plan to remove its claws and will refuse to give a cat to anyone with such plans, said Carl Friedman, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control. He said the shelter will instead try to give the would-be pet owner a feline declawed before it reached the pound.

The high court's action Wednesday "preserved the right of San Francisco to enact an ordinance like this if it chose to in the future," said Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

The surgery involves removing the claw as well as all or part of the last bone and connecting tendons and ligaments on a cat's paw.

West Hollywood's ordinance declares that the "mere convenience (of declawing) to the pet's guardian does not justify the unnecessary pain, anguish and permanent disability caused (to) the animal."

The measure makes it a crime to perform the surgery within West Hollywood city limits except for therapeutic purposes such as removal of infected tissue.

Some veterinarians oppose declawing, but their trade group, the California Veterinary Medical Association, says cities and the state should stay out of the decision. The association opposed the West Hollywood ordinance and also fought off a bill by a West Hollywood legislator in 2003 that would have imposed a statewide ban.

A Los Angeles judge overturned the ordinance in 2003, saying cities lack the power to limit the practice of state-licensed professionals. But the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles reinstated the measure in June.

West Hollywood has the authority to "set minimum standards for the humane treatment of animals within its borders," the court said in a 2-1 ruling. It said a city can regulate the conduct of professionals, as long as it does not prohibit procedures that state law expressly allows.

The state Supreme Court denied review Wednesday of an appeal by the veterinarians' association, with only Justice Carlos Moreno voting to grant a hearing.

The case is California Veterinary Medical Association vs. West Hollywood, S154899.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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