As I sat in the waiting room of our cat clinic the other day, I overhead the staff as they fielded several telephone inquiries about declawing. I was impressed with how deftly they educated the callers, managing to speak respectfully and without judgment. Although this clinic discourages declawing, the vets are willing to do it if pressed, rather than risk sending a client to a facility where sufficient care might now be taken to minimize pain and trauma. Yes, there is pain and trauma. This is a surgical mutilation, not a manicure. Imagine that you have had your fingers amputated at the first joint instead of simply cutting your nails, and you'll have the idea.
It amazes me that people so casually consider this kind of procedure. Why not do some research on cat care and behavior before actually adopting the animal? You didn't realize that Fluffy might want to scratch something? You don't understand that cats need their claws for defense, for climbing, for bringing out the milk of their mothers, and for working the shoulder and back muscles and stretching their spines? The last one came as a new fact to this former biology major. I knew that the more than one hundred vertebrae in the cat spine enabled the animal to twist during a fall and right itself. Cats actually do land on their feet, and this is useful if they actually survive the fall. What I didn't know until recently was that the cat's spine can go out of alignment if the front claws are removed. Without the tool to anchor the front paws, the cat cannot stretch. Some cats are now requiring chiropractic adjustment because the people in their lives were ignorant of this fact.
Humans are mighty unforgiving of their pets' behaviors. When I was a small child, I made the mistake of touching the dining room wallpaper with peanut butter on my hand. My mother was angry and frustrated, but being a reasonable person who loved me in spite of this incident, she chose not to have my fingers cut off. As a high school student, I was grateful to my father for exercising the same compassion when our Siamese cat Shakespeare, who was already declawed when we adopted him, committed his own error in judgment. He found the new velvet seat cushions on our dining room chairs irresistible, but without claws, he used his teeth instead, punching holes into each and every cushion. My father was angry, but he chose to let the cat live, refrain from having all of the teeth pulled, and they reached detente.
When you are making a decision as to whether amputating your cat's digits is a wise idea, you might want to consider the possible repercussions of the surgery. Not only do cats suffer pain and often trauma, but they may never forgive you for doing this to them. Once you break trust with a cat, it is nearly impossible to re-establish. Cats may exhibit a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, refuse to use the litter box (scratching can be painful even if the wounds are supposedly fully healed) and even experience a phenomenon similar to the "phanton limb" pain described by some human amputees. What will you do when your cat is in continual pain, urinating and defecating outside of the box, and perhaps simply retreating to a corner to hide its suffering? Guilt doesn't even begin to cover it.
So, what could possibly motivate people who claim to love their companion cats to consider only removal of claws, abandoning the cat to a shelter, or putting the animal to death? Oddly, at least in my mind, the motivating force is inanimate - furniture, draperies, clothing, shoes - the things we so value that they become more important than a sentient being we've taken into our homes and hearts. Do you love your sofa, leather recliner, or antique wooden table that much? Will your grandfather clock comfort you when you come home after your latest relationship ends or you lose your job? Good luck with that. I prefer the purring cat on my lap, the glass of wine in my hand, and the old movie on television as I consider my options and lick my wounds. I'm not confident that mutilating Fluffy's paws will make her that sympathetic should I need her to help me through a personal crisis.
Don't try to quote the Bible, either. In Genesis, that dominion God gave the people in the garden of Eden was most likely related to the concept of stewardship - you're supposed to take care of the species you domesticate. You were never given the right to use and abuse them with reckless abandon. And bite your tongue before the words, "It's just an animal" even begin to pass your lips. Human arrogance has led to many faulty assumptions about who is the superior species.
It's too late for the cats without claws, but not too late for you to get your priorities straight before you actually acquire a companion cat - or any other animal who will grow to depend on and love you unconditionally. If your lamps or your bookcases are the center of your life and you love them with all of your heart, then don't bring another living, breathing being into the environment. As for me, it's just furniture, and I'd be honored to visit your home and compliment you on the scratches in your woodwork as your own Fluffy stretches her spine.