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Is it legal to declaw my cat in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jul 08, 2016 | 0 Comments

What is declawing?

Properly known as onychectomy, declawing is a surgical procedure in which all or part of the end bones of an animal's toes are amputated. Although common in North America, declawing is frowned on by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other American animal welfare organizations. In many parts of the world, it is considered animal cruelty.

Unfortunately, it is still legal to declaw your pet throughout most of California. But there are enough exceptions that it is wise for people to check before putting their animal through such an invasive, irreversible and expensive procedure.

Eight California cities have banned declawing

In 2003, West Hollywood became the first city in the nation to ban the practice of declawing. Although challenged in court, the ban was eventually upheld. But the California legislature soon bowed to pressure from the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). A state law was passed that prohibited other cities from banning the practice of declawing domestic animals.

Before the law took effect, however, seven additional cities passed local bans. As of today, the full list of California cities in which declawing of pets is prohibited is:

  • Berkeley,
  • Beverly Hills,
  • Burbank,
  • Culver City,
  • Los Angeles,
  • San Francisco,
  • Santa Monica, and
  • West Hollywood.

A separate California law prevents the declawing of wild and exotic cats throughout the state.

California landlords can't require you to declaw an animal

Section 1942.7 of the California Civil Code prohibits landlords from requiring the declawing or devocalization of an animal as a condition of renting real property. Devocalization is the practice of removing the vocal chords of an animal, typically done to prevent dogs from barking.

Thus if a landlord or potential landlord denies you housing or evicts you because you refuse to declaw or devocalize your pet, the landlord is in violation of California law.

What about federal housing?

24 CFR 960.707 makes it unlawful to require people to remove their pets' vocal chords as a condition of living in public housing. The law, however, is silent on declawing. The federal law simply provides that restrictions on pet ownership must be reasonable and in accordance with state and local anti-cruelty laws.
There is a movement to add declawing to 24 CFR 960.707, but at present, it is stalled in Congress. Thus cat owners applying for federally subsidized housing are often told that they must declaw their animals if they want to live there.

But while such practices are not, in fact, legally required, neither is there any recourse for people who don't want to engage in what many consider animal cruelty. Since most federal housing is not located in any of the cities in which declawing is legally banned, there is little in the way of legal recourse if you are presented the choice between affordable housing and mutilating your pet.

What can I do if I am denied housing because of my animal?

Our best advice to someone who has been denied California housing or threatened with eviction due to an animal is to talk to your landlord. Explain to him or her what the surgery involves. Offer reasonable alternatives. Your local humane society or pet store can help you explore your options. These may include Soft Claws nail caps, obedience training, extra play time, or accessories such as scratching posts and pads.

And if you think your pet is just an excuse for an otherwise illegal eviction or discrimination, contact a local fair housing rights association or a lawyer. A little legwork may be all it takes to preserve your best friend's paws.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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