ALBANY, N.Y. - New York became the first U.S. state to ban the declawing of cats Monday, joining most of Europe, several Canadian provinces and a growing list of American cities that already prohibit a procedure animal advocates call cruel and unnecessary.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the New York ban. Supporters of the new law, which took effect immediately, predict it will lead to similar proposals across the country.
"This is a real triumph for cats and the people who love them," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, who pushed for years and who yielded to temptation when it came feline-themed puns on Monday. "This has catapulted New York to a leadership position when it comes to cruelty against felines."
Declawing a cat involves slicing through bone to amputate the first segment of a cat's toes. The operation was once commonly performed to protect furniture and human skin from feline scratching but has in recent years come under scrutiny by animal welfare advocates, cat owners and many vets.
While many vets urged lawmakers to pass the ban, the state's largest veterinary organization opposed the bill. The New York State Veterinary Medical Society argued that declawing should be allowed as a last resort for felines that won't stop scratching furniture or humans - or when the cat's owner has a weakened immune system, putting them at greater risk of infection from a scratch.
"Medical decisions should be left to the sound discretion of fully trained, licensed and state supervised professionals," the society said in a memo opposing the legislation.
Declawing a cat is already illegal in much of Europe and Canada, as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, but no other U.S. state has voted to ban the procedure, which involves amputating a cat's toes back to the first knuckle.
According to The Paw Project, a California-based group that supports bans on declawing, bills to prohibit the procedure are pending in several states, including New Jersey, California and Massachusetts, where lawmakers held a hearing on the measure Monday.
Supporters of bans cite estimates that a quarter or more of all domestic cats in the U.S. have had the procedure.
"For a cat, declawing is both psychologically and physically harmful," said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, a Bethesda, Maryland-based organization. "The surgery is traumatic, and the resulting disfigurement causes severe pain."
Under the bill, which easily passed the Democrat-led Senate and Assembly in early June, veterinarians could still perform the procedure for medical reasons, such as infection or injury.