Calif. Assembly considers devocalization and declawing bill

Pet owners and animal advocates are closely watching  a new state Senate bill  that would limit how far landlords can go to keep their property clear of noisy  dogs and frisky felines.

SB 1229 would prevent property owners from requiring tenants to have their  cats declawed and the voice boxes of their dogs removed as a condition of  tenancy but would still hold the renter responsible for damage caused by a pet.  The bill also would bar property owners from advertising only to potential  renters whose pets have had such procedures.

The bill’s author, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said some landlords   condition rental occupancy on the declawing of cats or the devocalizing of dogs.  These practices can have unintended consequences for property managers, physical  problems for animals and emotional and financial consequences for pet owners,  Pavley said.

Devocalizing pets is illegal in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and the state  of New York has pending legislation similar to California’s to ban  declawing  and devocalizing as a condition of rental tenancy. SB 1229 would resemble  federal Housing and Urban Development Department regulations that prohibit  public authorities from requiring pet owners to remove their pet’s vocal  chords.

The bill passed the Senate on May 17 without dissent and will be taken up by  the Assembly this month.

“Certainly, when it comes to somebody telling somebody else they have to do a  permanent procedure when they are doing a temporary rental, in my mind that is  excessive,” said Al Schwartz, owner of the Moorpark Veterinary Hospital and  former president of the California Veterinarian Association.

In his 31 years practicing animal medicine, Schwartz said, he has never  devocalized a dog or referred a pet for the procedure. Declawing is relatively  rare, too. Last year his office performed six declawing procedures. Schwartz  said he generally discourages declawing cats and advises pet owners to explore  alternative solutions such as behavioral training before going ahead with the  practice.

Eight local governments in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco  and West Hollywood, have outlawed declawing.

Schwartz said there are narrow situations where declawing is necessary, and  for that reason he is critical of city councils that have banned the procedure  altogether. He cites instances in which a cat owner may be suffering from an  illness and declawing is the only way to protect the owner’s health and keep the  owner able to care for the cat.

“A city, such as West Hollywood, for example, should not be telling a pet  owner what to do,”  Schwartz said.

Two years ago, a similar bill written by then-Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa  Barbara, was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after criticism from some  veterinarian circles about the language of the bill. The bill would have banned  declawing for any nontherapeutic reason, which Schwarzenegger believed would  prohibit accommodating the legitimate medical needs of a pet owner.

When done properly, Schwartz said, declawing is relatively painless. Cost can  vary by veterinarian and regional location but typically ranges from $250 to  $500.

Pavley’s bill is being backed by California Veterinary Association and the  California Apartment Association. Proponents argue the decision to have a pet  undergo such procedures should be up to the pet owner.

In a statement from the U.S. Humane Society, state director Jennifer Fearing  said SB 1229 will ensure that important medical decisions about pets continue to  be made by their caregivers, in private consultation with veterinarians.

Jeff Wallach, a theater arts educator from Thousand Oaks, said he’s been a  renter for most of his life. Wallach owns three pets rescued from animal  shelters: Buddy, an 8-year-old shepherd; Jack, a 7-year-old Lab mix; and Sassy,  a tabby who Wallach guesses is about 12.

Wallach said that if a property owner asked him to declaw Sassy or remove the  vocal chords of Buddy or Jack, he’d move out of the property immediately.

“It upsets me. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s inhumane,” Wallach said.

Wallach comes from a family of property owners and as a child would help his  father manage property in the San Fernando Valley by collecting rent and  interacting with tenants.

“I think the industry itself to me is so wonderful,” Wallach said. “It  infuriates me that people who would actually do that. It would never have  crossed my mind to ask a tenant to do that.”


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