Monday, October 18, 2010

Paws and Claws

As a breeder of Maine Coon cats, I get a lot of kitten inquires through my website.  I strive to respond to everyone consistently.  Emailed kitten inquiries are met with a page-long reply summarized as "This is how I do it, what you get, what I require, how much it costs, and what I have available or expected.  If you're still interested, please complete the attached Kitten Application and return it to me.  If I approve of you as the potential owner of one of my kittens, I'll put you on the waiting list."  My dad has referred to me as a Kitten Nazi (a Seinfeld's Soup Nazi reference). 

My kitten application asks open-ended questions because I don't believe in telling the potential kitten buyer what I want to hear.  My theory is I will get more honest answers that way.  This is also why I don't state the expectations on my website that all responsible breeders contractually require.  That's right, you sign a contract.  Realistically, it's difficult and expensive to legally pursue a kitten buyer who doesn't adhere to the rules, so we try to prevent problems in advance by asking the right questions, such as:

12. Regarding any cats you have now or have had in the past, are/were they indoors only, indoor/outdoor, or outdoors only?

13. Was/is your previous/current cat declawed?

22.   When this kitten is altered do you want it declawed, too?

Outdoor cats and intention to declaw will get a kitten buyer refused if I'm not convinced they can be reformed.  I have to mention that most animal rescue organizations and shelters have the same requirements as it's not just the purebred breeders who realize that all cats are worth protecting.  I do try to educate the naive rather than just refuse them.  The hardest to convince are those who believe that cats SHOULD go outdoors.  The easier ones are those who aren't sure about declawing.  Some will honestly say that their previous cat was declawed but they have since learned that the procedure is inhumane and would never do it again.  Some will ask if they should, thinking that perhaps I'm recommending their kitten be declawed because they've never had a Maine Coon before and such a large cat may be dangerous with its claws intact.  They're not tigers People, just large, beautiful, domestic cats.  I normally refer the declawing ignorant to a site which describes the procedure in which the cat's fingertips are amputated up to the first knuckle.  Yep....ouch!  Being that anyone who wants to invest in a Maine Coon is a cat lover, that description usually convinces them as they had no idea what was involved. 

According to research, most veterinarians state that 95% of their declawing surgeries are performed in order to save the cat owner's furniture.  The procedure is most common in North America and Asian countries, and outlawed in most of Europe, New Zealand and Australia as inhumane.  My theory is that as the American public became more aware that indoor-only cats were the way to go, conflicts arose when the indoor cats started doing what was natural to them - clawing on whatever worked for them, usually furniture.  In order to prevent cat owners from giving up their pets, veterinarians offered the solution of declawing. 

In my twenties, I was similarly ignorant.  As a child, all our cats were required to live outdoors by my parents.  Once I moved out on my own, the cats I adopted were kept indoors.  I didn't know about scratching posts and it wasn't a problem until we got Creole, a solid black domestic short hair.   After we moved from Manassas, Virginia to Florence, South Carolina, Creole started clawing the couch.  Once, after a weekend out of town, we came home to a couch with its arm gutted open down to the wooden frame.  Now granted, it was a second-hand couch, but enough was enough. 

I had never considered declawing a cat, but my sister had her cats declawed (thanks to her controlling now ex-husband) and loved the way it felt when her cats kneaded on her legs with their soft claw less paws.  I didn't know what else to do and my veterinarian's advice was to have her declawed.  Creole came home with her front legs bandaged all the way up and looked pathetic, but she eventually recovered from her surgery and seemed to be fine. 

A few years later, I got a new kitten, Remy.  My vet advised me to have her declawed when she was spayed, explaining that if she developed clawing issues later, it was easier to do it when she was young and already under anesthesia.  Having young children and new furniture, I agreed.  The thought now of what that poor cat had to endure with two surgeries makes me cringe.  Remy never developed the behavior issues declawed cats are supposed to have (usually aggression and not using the litter box), but she did become slightly lame.  One onychectomy study showed that 33% of declawed cats have behavior problems and are twice as likely as intact cats to be relinquished to animal shelters. Remy's paws still seem disproportionately small for her size, but she is a family favorite because of her outgoing, affectionate nature.

When I got my first Maine Coon, Sassy, from a breeder, I admitted to her that I had two declawed cats at the time (Creole has since passed away from kidney disease).  Her advice was not to tell anyone so as to avoid harsh judgement from other breeders.  I took Sassy to Companion Animal Hospital in Groton, CT for her check up and found he had kitten package plans which automatically included vaccinations, spay/neuter and declawing.  I changed vets as I no longer wanted to be associated with one that recommends declawing as a standard practice. 

I've chosen to blog about my past sins in order to educate and not condemn.  Having been there, I understand the concerns of cat lovers who want to keep their furniture intact.  Now I preach about the necessity of a good scratching post and a cat's physical need to claw something, equating the absence of a scratching post to not providing a litter box.  Had I known (or been advised of alternatives by my vet at the time) to provide my cats with a good scratching post as kittens, Creole and Remy could have kept their claws and fingertips. 

I can honestly claim that very few of my kitten buyers ever complain about their Maine Coon kitten clawing where it isn't supposed to.  It helps tremendously that the kittens learn to use a scratching post almost as soon as they can walk.  It's amazing to watch a 4-week-old kitten waddle up to the sisal post and claw it just like Mommy does.  We have leather couches and the cats have never tried to claw them.  There are scratches across the leather due to the furniture being used as take off and landing strips during playtime, but nothing deliberate.  I have a cat tree or sisal post in most rooms so everyone has access. 

I can't undo what I did to Creole and Remy years ago, but I can move forward by educating the unaware.  My contract stipulates that if you get a kitten or cat from me, you agree to never have it declawed.  Since I have my kittens spayed/neutered before they leave me, any kitten buyer's vet who may suggest declawing at the time of altering doesn't get that opportunity. 

I was going to include tips for clipping your cat's claws, but as this blog is getting pretty long, that'll have be the sequel. 

Remy, our Domestic Short Hair


  1. Sharon,
    Thanks so much for your informative post.
    We have never had cats, just Golden Retrievers but we have heard about you through our good friend Suzan.
    Some day we would like to get a Maine Coon Cat and we are very much appreciative of your information and your blog.

    Sheila & Bob

  2. One community in the state of California - West Hollywood - has outlawed declawing; so there is one part of the US which maintains the European standard.

    You didn't mention Yoda in your blog. Clawed or declawed was he?

  3. Since you provide education and alternatives to the declawing, I hope you do also provide education and alternatives to the indoor/outdoor issue. I have a purebred Maine Coon who enjoys a SAFE outdoor experience via walks on the leash and a very large outdoor cat-yard with special cat fencing. They have access to climb trees, do a bit of hunting, and can even go into the garden shed. We have made sure our cats can safely enjoy the outdoor on our terms. I wish more people would consider offering this solution to their cats, because it just adds a ton of enrichment to their lives. Just wanted to mention this, so that perhaps those people who believe in the value of outdoor life for cats can be educated about a safe option.
    PS: I love your blog and your cats!

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    You are absolutely right for pointing out that with proper precautions, cats can safely enjoy the outdoors. We have a screened in front porch and a fully enclosed cat run for our cats. There are many websites which offer enclosures for cat lovers who want to safely give their cat the best of both worlds.

  5. We found that even better than a store bought scratching post is something that most homeowners may already have in their basement! Those big round metal support beams can be easily covered with 1/2' (untreated) sisal rope. It takes quite a bit to cover the height we needed but you don't have to worry it will tip over. (My guys play hard) We have one located just near the litter box which is considered their "territory" so it's perfect. My red cat never clawed anything but this post. Grizzly will use the post but also likes to claw mommys tapestry sidechair but only when he's on a rampage. I decided the company of my cats ment more to me than most objects I own and got over it. Life's short.

  6. Howard,

    California is notorious for their government regulation of animal rights. While I am against declawing, I don't support the animal rights agenda. Groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)are not only anti-breeder, but they are also against pet ownership. But that's another topic.

    My beloved Yoda and Felicity, the first cats I got as an adult and predecessors to Creole and Remy, fully clawed they were.