Maiming

Declawing


The SPCA movement in South Africa "is opposed to the unnecessary mutilation of animals - for cosmetic, sporting, entertainment or convenience purposes:- including but not limited to tail-docking, ear-cropping, de-barking and de-clawing.” (extract from the Statement of Policy)

Declawing is the practice of surgically removing the claws of a cat whilst the cat is under general anaesthetic. The procedure is usually carried out at the request of the owner who may have been experiencing "anti-social behaviour” by the cat such as scratching furniture. Declawing is legal. But in the UK and more than 20 other countries, declawing is either illegal or acceptable only under extreme circumstances. There are no definitive studies to answer the questions of whether it is ethical or humane but the NSPCA believes it is neither of the above.

"Technically referred to as an onychectomy, the procedure resembles more of an amputation than a declaw. Cats' claws are closely adhered to bone, so removing them requires taking away the last bones of the toes, along with all ten frontal tendons and nerves. It's a process that many liken to the removal of a human fingertip at the first knuckle – and that has often been blamed for house-soiling, biting and other changes in behaviour. While laser surgery is said to be preferable because of reduced bleeding and pain in the post-operative period, researchers have found that long-term implications remain the same foe both laser and scalpel operations.” (Humane Society of the United States – ANIMAL SHELTERING magazine, May / June 2004).


One conundrum with no obvious answer but with serious and long-term implications for SPCAs country-wide is: - Does declawing lead to more felines being handed over as a result of changes in their behaviour that occur after declawing when a cat's natural defences have been taken away or does not declawing lead to more cats being handed in at SPCAs when intolerant owners get fed up with damage to their belongings? It may be the case that owners who have their cats declawed may have a low tolerance for damage to property or other problems (perhaps read "natural behaviour”) caused by pets.

A September 2002 publication WHY CATS NEED CLAWS by Gary Loewenthal describes not only the pain of the procedure but also the possible balance problems that may result. "When the cat begins standing differently to compensate for the loss of part of his toes, and the weakening of the shoulders and upper back that some people believe develops when a cat can no longer scratch properly.”


Safety is an important factor to consider too. Cats rely on their claws to get out of danger when, for example, being chased by a dog and being able to shimmy up the nearest tree. A cat that has had claws and then has them removed will instinctively act in the way it has previously when frightened or attacked. That's right, by using its claws. Cats use them to grip a surface as they leap to safety or to use as the first line of defence when confronted by an unfriendly member of another or even the same species. It is a literal truth that declawed cats are defenceless. The "pro-declaw” brigade then say that declawed cats must be kept indoors. We ask if you think that, in itself, is fair. We add that accidents and dangers may also lurk indoors but a declawed cat has no option of a leap to safety.

There is a "last resort” argument but it has to be asked how often declawing really is performed as a final measure only after all other options have been tried. It is entirely possible that there may be owners and veterinarians who might consider surgery a routine preventive rather than a desperate intervention. Perhaps we should focus on the alternatives. They do exist.

Scratching is a normal feline behaviour. It is a means for claw conditioning ("husk” removal) and stretching activity. Owners need to provide suitable implements for normal scratching behaviour such as scratching posts, cardboard boxes, logs with carpet or fabric remnants attached. Scratching equipment needs to be tall or long enough to allow full stretching and be firmly anchored to provide the necessary resistance to scratching. It's no wonder we hear "He doesn't use his scratching post” when so very often, the post moves around when a cat uses it or, worse still, has fallen over on occasion. I'd be wary too!

Cats should be positively reinforced for using scratching equipment. That is, praise, fuss and attention for using them. Ironically, scolding a cat for failing to use scratching equipment serves to reinforce the very behaviour you are trying to stop. The cat is getting attention. Cats aren't fools either. They soon learn how to grab your attention so make sure that behaviour you fully approve of is the way your attention will be grabbed. Placing or rubbing catnip on the area you want your cat to scratch is a good way of attracting kitty in the right direction.

A flashy product that is rapidly gaining attention in the fight against declawing is Soft Paws. These are bright vinyl claw caps that allow kitties to scratch without doing damage. There was initial scepticism in the United States but recent feedback is that the product is easy to use and a far better alternative to claw removal.

A lower-maintenance, more self-explanatory product is Sticky Paws. These are transparent self-adhesive strips that can be applied to furniture. To any household items, in fact. They are harmless to the fabric / material and to the cats. They are a deterrent to the cats, sending the cat back to where it should have been scratching in the first place; the scratching post. They are humane. Availability is South Africa may be questionable or very limited but an enterprising individual could easily come up with a home-made version that would do the trick. A protective layer around vulnerable spots in the house that can easily be removed when visitors arrive is not a bad option to take.


No matter, we cannot evade a definition of "last option” or to give definition to the word "unnecessary” in the NSPCA Statement of Policy. Declawing might be justified if the cat's scratching posed a zoonotic risk to the owner. (Zoonosis is the passing of a disease from animal to man.) The definition might stretch as far as being acceptable in cases where otherwise a cat may be euthanased or denied a home.

It is a documented fact that many people hand in cats at SPCAs because they have scratched furniture or other household items. The "last resort” argument lives on. But a 1994 report (VET FORUM, "Declawing revisited” by G M Landsberg) describes a "serious disconnect” between the perceptions of veterinarians and the perceptions of cat owners regarding declawing. A survey is cited in which 50% of veterinarians responding speculated that cat owners would have handed their cats to the local animal welfare organisation, had the cats not been declawed. In fact, 4% of those owners said they would have made that choice.


Tail Docking Simplified

It must be clarified:-

  • that as of I June 2008 the SA Veterinary Council decided that it will no longer condone the routine tail docking of puppies by veterinarians as they would be in contravention of the Animals Protection Act, unless done for therapeutic reasons;
  • that docking of tails when undertaken by non-veterinarians is, in addition to being a contravention of the Animals Protection Act, a surgical procedure which is also a contravention of the Veterinary Act, regardless of how it is done.

In other words, tail docking is a criminal offence no matter who does it. There is no exclusion for breeders. A full article on the decision by the SA Veterinary Council can be read on their website here.


Tail Docking of Puppies

It has long been the opinion of the NSPCA that tail docking (as well as any other form of mutilation) is a contravention of the Animals Protection Act Clause 2(1)a, which states:

"Any person who overloads, overdrives, overrides, ill-treats, neglects, infuriates, tortures or maims or cruelly beats, kicks, goads or terrifies any animal.”

Previously the SPCA movement did not have the support of the veterinary profession on this particular point, therefore, for obvious reasons – until pain could be proven in a court of law. With new research and the support of the SAVC, we are of the opinion that with the appropriate evidence, we will successfully prosecute and convict persons docking tails for cosmetic reasons or for reasons other than veterinary requirements.


Negatives of Tail Docking

  • Scientific research has shown that tail docking is a painful and traumatic experience for a puppy, even if performed under local anaesthetic. Even at a few days of age, puppies have a well developed sense of pain and a fully developed nervous system. Skin, blood vessels, nerves, bone and cartilage are cut during the procedure. If it is poorly done, problems such as nerve damage, neuroma, pain, bleeding, infection, problems with defecating and urinating and even death can occur.
  • Dogs use their tails for communication / body language. A tail that is wagging quickly indicates a happy, friendly dog, whilst a tail that is being wagged stiffly, slowly and deliberately indicates a warning that a dog is feeling threatened or unhappy, and that he may bite or attack. Without a tail, a dog cannot communicate his emotions or intentions, making it more difficult for people and other dogs to know how a dog is likely to react in a certain situation, and may even lead to an increase in dog fights.
  • Tails assist with agility.
  • Tails assist with balance.
  • Unless the dog's tail is a major hindrance to the work that a working dog needs to carry out, or if it may be damaged or injured in the course of his work, there is no justification for tail docking. Also, many working breed dogs are now kept as pets and not as working animals, and even if they do work, it is normally "a recreational activity for people and not an essential function”, according to the SAVC (South African Veterinary Council). The NSCPA concurs with this statement.
  • Tail docking is a procedure that is carried out because people believe that that is how that dog should "look”, so it merely satisfies a breed standard or a human notion of what that type of dog should look like. It started hundreds of years ago, sometimes for reasons that were medically unsound, and for reasons which are no longer valid today. SABBA (SA Boerbul Breeders Association) claims that tail docking is supported by breeders "from a health, safety and aesthetic point of view”.

The SAVC

The SAVC decided that as of 1 June 2008 it would no longer condone the routine tail docking of puppies for cosmetic purposes by veterinarians. Any veterinarian who docks a tail, "unless for justifiable medical reasons”, will be liable for prosecution under the Animal Protection Act (APA) number 71 of 1962. Veterinarians found guilty under this act will automatically be investigated for unprofessional conduct by the SAVC under the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982. Lay people are also liable to prosecution under the APA if maiming can be proved. This falls under the ambit of welfare organisations.

AS OF SEPTEMBER 2011, THE SAVC IS IN THE PROCESS OF DRAFTING TWO IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS:

  • An article to help vets to understand what they are required to put into a veterinary report on docking cases to assist welfare organisations.
  • A literature review on pain in neonatal puppies to scientifically support the welfare argument that cosmetic tail docking in puppies causes unnecessary pain and suffering.

The SAVC has printed information on tail docking in puppies in the form of pamphlets and posters. These have been distributed to veterinary practices in SA and are available on the SAVC website. (Copies attached to this document.)


KUSA (Kennel Union of South Africa)

KUSA has stated that they are not happy with the ban on tail docking and that the "SAVC is not empowered to prosecute laypersons, and by their own admission cannot even prosecute veterinarians. They can only take action against a veterinarian, if convicted in a court of law”.

However, together the veterinarians, SPCA, public and other welfare organisations can prosecute.

According to Dawn Rosier at KUSA in Cape Town, their breed standards have not changed and dog owners may show their dogs with or without cropped tails. None of their breed standards say that a dog's tail must be cropped, but they rather say "tail customarily docked” or "tail traditionally docked”.


SABT – SABBA

(SUID-AFRIKAANSE BOERBOELTELERSVEREEENIGING / SOUTH AFRICAN BOERBOEL BREEDERS ASSOCIATION) WEBSITE:

According to a legal opinion offered by Attorneys Mason Inc, Pietermaritzburg (Mr Petrus Coetzee) on this website, "There is no notification in the Government Gazette nor is there Ministerial approval as required by the Veterinary and Para Veterinary Professions Act 19 of 1982” in regards to the resolution taken by the SAVC in connection with tail docking of puppies. He goes on to state that, "Because the rule has not been published in the Government Gazette or been given Ministerial approval . . . it has no effect, the law has not been changed”.

In response to the NSPCA's queries on this legal opinion, the Director of Legal Affairs at the SAVC, Mrs Shikshah Dowlath-Singh, stated that, "The SAVC need not have all its policies published in the Government Gazette nor have the Act and / or rules and regulations amended, in order to enforce its decisions and policies within and against the veterinary and para-veterinary professions”, and that the SAVC only has jurisdiction over registered members of the veterinary and para-veterinary professions, therefore, ”all policy decisions made by Council are valid and enforceable against all its registered members . . . and the SAVC may institute disciplinary action against a veterinarian” who performs taildocking for cosmetic reasons.

She further states that, "With regard to the illegality of taildocking, this is enforceable by the NSPCA . . . in terms of the Animal Protection Act, as it falls under the offence of maiming. The NSPCA is the body responsible for investigating any person who is responsible for the docking of dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons . . . with the view of laying criminal charges against such a person for criminal prosecution”.


References

  1. SAVC www.savc.co.za
  2. Dr Quixi Sonntag, BVSc (Hons) PGCHE, SAVC
  3. Mrs Shikshah Dowlath-Singh, SAVC Director: Legal Affairs
  4. Docked Breeds Association of SA website
  5. KUSA www.kusa.co.za
  6. SABT / SABBA www.sabt.co.za
  7. SA Boxer Breed Council www.saboxer.co.za
  8. Marvell Boerboels www.marvelltargusboerboel.com

Ear Cropping


EAR CROPPING

The National Council of SPCAs is opposed to the unnecessary mutilation of animals – for cosmetic, sporting, entertainment or convenience purposes – including but not limited to tail-docking, ear-cropping, de-barking, de-clawing and myotomy.

Extract from Code of Conduct and Practice for Veterinarians – S A Veterinary Council:

4.8 SURGICAL ALTERATION TO THE NATURAL STATE OF ANIMALS

Introduction

Policy

Surgery to alter the natural state of an animal is acceptable only if it is necessary for the health and welfare of the animal concerned. Performance of any surgical procedure for other than legitimate medical reasons is unacceptable.

Background

Many surgical procedures are performed on animals for valid health, welfare and management reasons. However, surgical procedures performed on animals which not only do not benefit the health and welfare of the animal but may actually be detrimental, include but are not limited to:

  • Ear cropping in dogs;
  • Tail docking in dogs.

Some of these procedures have traditionally been carried out by laypersons without due regard to the health and welfare of the animal. All these procedures are painful, and the consequences of the procedure may adversely affect the animal’s health and welfare.

To lodge a complaint with the SA Veterinary Council write to savc@savc.org.za


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