The word “dogged” describes cat master Dr. Jennifer Conrad perfect. She is the founder and director of the Paw Project, which is educating the public about why scratching cats is inhuman, with the aim of completely banning this painful surgery in the US and Canada. And while there is still a long way to go, she’s making it.
We met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York a few years ago when we were both there for the hotel cat Hamlet’s charity party. The beautiful smile and social veil of this reserved woman contradicted her formidable resume and amazing accomplishments in protecting cats from this mutilating operation, often done to preserve the family couch and curtains.
In a world where activism is loud, on your face, and often disrespectful, Dr. Conrad patiently like a typical cat and with the innate feeling of finding the right time to stand up for her cause – politely. Even on The Paw Project’s website, she urges cat owners to ensure that the vet of their choice does not scratch and not be afraid of being a patient with a polite “no thanks”.
What is declawing?
Debarking is a surgical procedure sometimes mistakenly called “onychectomy,” which means “removing the nail”. In reality, the animal’s toes are amputated at the last joint. This is the only way to remove the nail (the claw) that is growing deep inside the toe bone. Most people don’t realize that bones – not just the nail – are being removed. While some cats have immediate complications from the procedure, it can take many months or years for the harmful effects of the stealing to become apparent. Stealing can lead to permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term physical and behavioral complications.
Big cats, little cats
As a newly qualified veterinarian, Dr. Conrad in 1999 with big cats at a California animal shelter that housed lions and tigers that had previously been kept as pets and whose previous owners had scratched them as cubs to protect them from injury.
Dr. Conrad started the Paw Project out of necessity. She explains, “I couldn’t believe the terrible results I saw while stealing it. I felt that something had to be done to help these animals. I have had 40 big cat patients, all of whom suffered to varying degrees from the unnecessary and harmful amputation procedure. “
It tells the story of a young mountain lion named Kona who was crippled from scratching. “He could barely walk,” she says. “We started doing repairs on these cats and were amazed at how much better they got. Kona was able to walk after his surgery. It was wonderful. “
Dr. Conrad knew that what happened to big cats also happened to domestic cats on a large scale. She believed it had to be stopped.
A meeting that Dr. Conrad had with Hernan Molina, then Deputy Mayor of West Hollywood City, John Duran, who visited her at work, changed everything.
She had to remove the bandages from a lioness whose paws had been repaired a few days earlier. Dr. Conrad recalls: “She didn’t want me to take the green compresses off her feet. I think that was because she woke up from the surgery and her paws felt so much better that she liked her ‘protective shoes’. At that time I turned to Mr. Molina and asked, “Can we just make stealing illegal in West Hollywood?”
And in 2003, West Hollywood became the first city to prohibit theft in the United States. Bans followed in the California cities of Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Francisco, Burbank, Santa Monica, Culver City and Beverly Hills.
“Our goal is to educate the cat-loving public and make them aware that stealing is just bad for cats, bad for the cat’s people, and bad for the cat’s vets,” says Dr. Conrad. “Nobody gains from an operation that causes permanent harm and pain to cats, causes cats to avoid the litter box and start biting, or people dump their beloved cats, who are now scratched and suffering, to shelters or euthanasia.”
Extend the ban
In 2017, Paw project manager Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo in Denver, Colorado, successfully imposed a ban. And then a ban on stopping decryption in Nova Scotia, Canada, prompted six other Canadian provinces to enforce the anti-theft bans as well. Dr. Conrad stood up for it, and in 2019, Linda B. Rosenthal, a New York MP, got all of New York State to stop decrypting. That was a real coup for Dr. Conrad and The Paw Project. Later that year, St. Louis, Missouri, also passed a municipal ban.
“We are now sponsoring bans in several states including Massachusetts, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois, as well as in the Canadian province of Ontario,” affirmed Dr. Conrad.
She shares that the best thing that happened in 2020 was VCA and Banfield, two of the largest veterinary chains in North America, decided to stop stealing. This brought more than 2,000 hospitals and more than 10,000 veterinarians on board.
“I’m grateful to them for taking the time to listen to me and for choosing to do the right thing,” she says. “Now that the industry standard is changing, organizations like the American Association of Feline Practitioners are more comfortable when they change and refuse to support” cat-friendly “veterinary practices that continue to declaw.”
Big cats don’t hurt in this movie
When Dr. Conrad not committed to the goals of the Paw project and adding to their milestones in legislation backed by a now growing team of volunteers and veterinarians, he can still work with big cats by providing veterinary help for movie sets when needed perform. Big cats like the tigers who starred in Life of Pi and The Hangover have experienced their practical love, care, and attention.
#pawsforthiscause – So What Can You Do?
- The Paw Project’s informative documentary The Paw Project Movie (pawprojectmovie.com) is streamed for free on many platforms including Amazon Prime. Let teachers know it will be available for screening in the classroom. Visit Teachwithmovies.org for lesson plan ideas.
- Call veterinary clinics near you. Are you pro-declaw? Anti-declaw? Let the Paw Project team know the list of vets and veterinary clinics that will not be scraped. Write to [email protected]
- Help legislate further by training and developing relationships with lawmakers in your area. Use the Legislative News and AntiDeclawing FAQs (pawproject.org) websites to familiarize yourself with the applicable laws and scientific knowledge on the subject of stealing.
- Donate to fund repair operations for cats that are badly mutilated so they can walk comfortably again.