Cats & Claws

photo (5)“But what about my couch?”

Cat adopters, particularly first-time adopters, often don’t know what to do when it comes to their cats’ claws. And the concern, oftentimes, is not, “Will my cat scratch or hurt me?” but, “Will my cat damage my stuff?”

And the short, simple answer is, “yes, probably.”

But owning an animal, whether it’s a cat or dog or other, necessitates at least some level of compromise. A dog owner can expect their couch to eventually smell like wet dog. A cat owner can expect their couch to get a little scratched. Sure, there are plenty of ways to dissuade a cat from this behavior—providing appropriate places where they are allowed to scratch, regularly trimming their nails, exercising the cat to prevent boredom, putting sticky tape on the couch to discourage scratching, training the cat not to scratch the couch (yes, cats can be trained!), and if it gets bad enough, there are even nail caps you can glue on like a protective manicure—but that requires the tiniest bit of effort. And a tiny bit of effort is often too much effort for a lot of people.

Because we like our possessions. Sometimes, even more than we like our pets. It sounds absurd to say it, but it must be true. Otherwise, who would ever even think to declaw a cat?

A small part of the declawing problem is ignorance. Some people don’t really know what declawing is. They think it’s a simple procedure, like snapping little twigs off a branch. They don’t realize that it’s an amputation—a complicated one—that if done wrong (and even when done “right”) can lead to medical and behavioral issues far worse than a scratched up couch.

At the Animal Rescue League of Boston, we’ve had some declawed cats pass through the shelter. Jack and Sancho were a bonded pair of declawed cats. Jack was a sweet, easygoing tabby. Sancho was a gray and white cat who almost didn’t make it.

Sancho had severe fear aggression. When he was nervous or stressed out (which is the life of a cat in a shelter environment), he would lash out at people. Now, because Sancho was declawed, he could swipe at someone without hurting them. But the insecurity he possessed because he couldn’t defend himself resulted in a frenzied, panicked biting and kicking with his back claws that could cause some serious damage. He had some strong muscles behind him.

The volunteers worked with Sancho to soothe him and boost his confidence. And once he began to trust people, he turned into a very affectionate cat and the pair was eventually adopted. But Sancho will always have his fear aggression issues—a direct result of having been declawed.

It may end there for Sancho, but for some declawed cats, it gets worse. Declawing can cause house-soiling (urinating outside the litterbox). It can cause lameness, arthritis, and pain for a cat. In other words—declawing can make a cat’s life, and its owner’s life, hell.

“But I’ve had declawed cats in the past and they’ve all been fine,” is the usual response to this argument.

Yes, that can be the case. But cats are also known for hiding pain and sickness, and an owner might never have noticed the discomfort their cat felt from walking on its heels instead of its toes.

And every cat is different, just like people. A human amputee, for instance, might use their loss of limb as a challenge and rise to the occasion. And another amputee might become increasingly depressed or angry. Just because one cat did okay with their amputation, doesn’t mean the next one will.

Ultimately, declawing a cat is selfish. It’s a human convenience that brings absolutely no benefit to the cat. It’s also a form of animal cruelty and illegal in many countries. The United States, unfortunately, is having trouble rising above convenience.

For more information, take a look at the amazing upcoming documentary by Jennifer Conrad and The Paw Project. It will make you want to kiss your cats’ claws and buy them a brand new scratching post.

Check out The Paw Project on Facebook, Twitter, and their official website.

My Cat Is Not a Killer (Except When He Is)… But That’s Not the Point

Smirnoff at Window

A few days ago, Smirnoff killed a mouse. I woke up and walked to the bathroom to find him crouched, with a limp gray body clamped in his mouth, growling at Bacardi to back away from his prize. I traded the mouse for some treats, praised Smirnoff for his superb hunting skills and Bacardi for giving it a good ol’ try, and gently picked up the mouse with a plastic bag, checked it for any signs of disease (it was healthily dead), and disposed of it outside. It was Smirnoff’s first ever kill, and his third ever attempt, not counting house flies.

Smirnoff and Bacardi are indoor-only cats. For several reasons. 1.) I live in a city. 2.) I volunteer at an animal shelter and see how rough outdoor cats have it in a city. 3.) I have minor control issues and half panic just at the thought of letting my cats outside. Smirnoff was plucked off the streets as a young cat and still sometimes takes late night snacks out of the garbage. The first two days after I brought him home, he didn’t touch the cat food I placed out for him. On the third day he wolfed down my roommate’s bowl of pasta before she knew what was happening. Smirnoff would happily spend half the day outside, even in the city, if I let him. But I don’t. He and Bacardi remain indoors (although I sometimes treat Smirnoff to a jaunt on the porch wearing a harness and leash) and they both remain perfectly content, with only occasional half-hearted scratches at the windowsill.

Yet, many people do let their cats outside, even in a city. I get adopters all the time who ask during the interview, “Oh, but isn’t it cruel to keep them indoors?” I’ve counted at least seven indoor-outdoor cats on my street alone, several indoor-outdoor cats where my parents live in the suburbs, and saw plenty of stray and semi-feral cats last year when my boyfriend lived in a low-income neighborhood. (I tried trapping a couple of them but they were too smart.)

The statistics that get bandied about often (and are repeated by myself and other volunteers at the shelter) are that indoor cats live about 16 years, while outdoor cats live 3–5. I’m not entirely certain where I first heard that statistic but on its surface it at least makes sense. Outdoor cats are subject to being run over by cars, disease, starvation, getting lost, getting stolen, etc. Even though I know several indoor-outdoor cats who have lived to ripe old ages, on average it’s a grim outlook.

But the focus right now isn’t on how outdoor living can be damaging for your cat. It’s on how damaging cats are for the outdoors. Because let’s face it: cats are killers. They are predatory animals, obligate carnivores, and if Smirnoff were let outside, his kill would be much higher than one out of three. Continue reading “My Cat Is Not a Killer (Except When He Is)… But That’s Not the Point”