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January 24, 2017

Life with Lucy: How my declawed cat has adjusted to living with a newborn

Parenting Pets
1Katie_Gagnon_Lucy Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie hopes her son will love Lucy as much as she does. She monitors their interactions to ensure her son's safety while encouraging a positive relationship.

When you are having a baby there are many things to plan. Those of us with pets need to prepare our fur babies for life with a new baby in the house. My utmost concern was ensuring the safety of my son because my cat, Lucy, is aggressive. I am pretty much the only person that Lucy unconditionally loves and even I bear the scars of her attacks. She has scratched family members, friends and my husband so many times that I made the decision last spring to have her declawed in Missouri, where we were living at the time. It was the only way to try and keep a dangerous animal in my home with a baby soon arriving.

I wrote about this decision, explaining how difficult it was for me to choose to declaw my beloved cat but how my child’s safety and wellbeing were of paramount concern. The response I received from the anti-declawing community was self-serving, shocking and scary. Self-serving because a nonprofit dedicated to outlawing declawing used my opinion piece as a call to arms to demonize and attack me, while pushing its messaging and trumping up traffic on its social media and website. Shocking because of the countless commenters who told me to get an abortion and give my son up for adoption rather than have him raised by someone who would declaw their cat. And scary because many of these people said that my fingers should be chopped off so I would understand what I put my cat through. There were threats, there was anger, and there was bewilderment.

I understand why many people in this country and around the world are against declawing. It is amputation: a surgical procedure that removes the last joint of each toe. In many countries it is banned. New Jersey lawmakers may outlaw it. Even though Lucy was a candidate for a medically-necessary onychectomy because of her aggression, I chose to endure her attacks rather than have her undergo it. However having a baby rightly changed my perspective.

My reasoning to ultimately have my cat declawed is best put by the American Veterinary Medical Association: “ Scientific data do indicate that cats that have destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanatized, or more readily relinquished, released, or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population. Where scratching behavior is an issue as to whether or not a particular cat can remain as an acceptable household pet in a particular home, surgical onychectomy may be considered.”

Under the advice of our doctor, veterinarian, and pregnancy/baby experts, there were a number of steps that I took to prepare my cat to share her home with a baby. Declawing was one of them.

I am happy to report that we have been able to achieve a happy relationship and balance in life with our infant and my fur baby. We never allow Lucy to be around the baby unsupervised and she does not sleep in our bedroom at night. Pets should never be allowed in the same room as a sleeping baby because they can get into the crib or sleeping area and accidentally smother the infant. Lucy is far more curious about Killian than he is about her. I am encouraging her curiosity while closely monitoring it. I hope that my son will one day develop a friendship with Lucy. The only reason this is a possibility is because we declawed her.

Those who took issue with my responsible decision to prevent my cat from scratching my baby said that I had maimed and negatively changed Lucy forever: she would never walk without pain; she would stop using the litter box; she would bite instead of scratch; and she would act out more aggressively. None of these things has happened. The AVMA states, “There is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups.” The only difference with Lucy since the surgery is that she has not scratched anyone.

To answer some of the questions posed to me last spring, there were many attempts to train Lucy out of her attacking and scratching behavior. I had scratch posts for her. I took her to a groomer to have her nails professionally trimmed. I trimmed her nails myself. And I most certainly did not have her declawed to save my furniture.

I know that in writing again about my decision to declaw Lucy I am kicking the hornet’s nest of those who are vehemently opposed to this surgery. I will receive a lot of negativity and backlash, just as I did last spring when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my baby boy. I am speaking out on this again to let other expecting mothers know that they – like me – are allowed to make the legal, personal decisions that are best for their families and their pets. I also encourage the anti-declawing community to refrain from threats when working to increase exposure for their mission and cause.

Anyone who has had pets knows that no two animals are the same. Just because your cat was great with your children, does not mean that mine would be. I had years of proof in scars that my cat was a danger to anyone around her, including my child. You can disagree with my declawing decision, but I made the right decision for my son’s safety. I do not regret it. My child’s wellbeing is more important to me than my cat and certainly more important than diatribe.

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