Sunday , 20 August 2017

Special Contributor, Dr. James Rassi: Will Quebec ban declawing?

Special to Montreal Dog Blog – Dr. James Rassi 

There’s a renewed sense of optimism throughout the veterinary profession in Quebec that our treatment of animals is on track to finally get in line with other veterinary circles around the world. The keyword being just that: optimism. Whenever I’ve asked anyone: veterinary medicine professionals, client, friends, family; the outright census was that Quebec was a breeding ground for poor animal welfare, and that we lagged behind not only the rest of the world, but the rest of Canada. We have recently seen a flurry of much needed change occurring in this province, but it’s not without its limitations.
Six months ago, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed legislation to change the legal status of animals, specifically, dogs, cats, horses, and animals used for fur production, from movable property to “sentient beings”. It is hard to believe that in 2015 (at the time), a dog or cat had the same legal rights as your sofa, or car, or
fridge; however, with the law being passed, owners are now required to ensure that  their pets receive “care that is consistent with (their) biological needs.” Let’s call that a win!

And it seemed that the wins just kept coming: In January 2016, l’Ordre des  médecins vétérinaires du Québec (OMVQ) passed a resolution banning the practice of  cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking in dogs and cats (I didn’t even know cats were  subjected to this?!), effective January 1st, 2017. Apart from a (very) small outcry from particular breeders, this ban has been widely supported by the veterinary profession.

Despite the optimism, and despite the genuine change, I can’t help but feel we can still do more to really bring this province to the forefront; to truly be the example to follow for the rest of Canada, maybe even for a larger scope, instead of our customary place as an animal welfare after-thought.

I couldn’t help but notice that Bill 54 – the “sentient beings law” – does not include protection for our pint-sized furry friends: hamsters, ferrets, rats, mice all seem to have been left out. Even birds and more exotic pets received no recognition, and the last time I checked, they all need basic life necessities. Apparently, we’re just not legally obliged to do so. I think, and hope, this may be more from oversight, than because of any opposition to include them.

To truly bring our province to start the meaningful change that this profession needs, the one aspect we need to address is the declawing of cats.  I know this is a contentious issue. As of the previous sentence I have just divided my readers: those who are against, those who are indifferent. For clarification: I’d like to ignore the very small group of those who are FOR declawing, I know they exist, but I choose to not  believe it.

I won’t get into the details of what the declawing entails here, instead I will recommend going to www.pawproject.org and www.declawing.com for further information. The facts about the procedure are mounting up, yet I still cannot  comprehend, as a veterinarian, or as a person, why we actively choose to ignore them. I won’t go into more the fine details about the pain it causes short-term, about the long-term pain and behavioural effects it causes, or about the reality that in 40 countries throughout the world, it is banned; countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe – again I recommend the previously mentioned websites for the details. However I will say that with all that we know – we seem to ignore, as a profession in general, that it gives no medical or behavioural benefit to the cat; none whatsoever. So my biggest concern is that we may have over-looked another “cosmetic procedure” to include into our law. What makes ear cropping and tail docking any different to the declawing of cats? I personally do not see the difference. All 3 are antiquated procedures, relics of “old-fashioned vet medicine”, and are known to give no medical benefit to our patients; yet only 2 out of the 3 have been deemed expendable.

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An x-ray taken before paw-repair surgery demonstrates the bony remnants seen on xray and the fragments removed after surgery. These toes, which were 'de-clawed', are riddled with scar tissue, the pads are thick, and the tendons are contracted so much that the cat has to change its gait to compensate. Paw repair surgery was performed by Montreal's Dr. Enid Stile (Sherwood Park Animal Hospital) and Dr. Gatineau (DMV) .
An x-ray taken of a declawed cat before paw-repair surgery demonstrates the bony remnants and the fragments removed after surgery. These declawed toes are riddled with scar tissue, the pads are thick, and the tendons are contracted so much that the cat has to change its gait to compensate. These fragments would have felt like perpetually “walking with rocks in your shoes” for this cat. Paw repair surgery was performed by Montreal’s Dr. Enid Stile (Sherwood Park Animal Hospital and Paw Project Quebec Director) and Dr. Gatineau (DMV) . (photo: Enid Stiles)

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I’m not trying to undermine the fact that changing the legal definition of animals so that they have more rights than my IKEA furniture wasn’t needed; but nobody is going to disagree with this. Even sworn enemies in the Assembly voted 109-0 in favour of it. How often do politicians agree unanimously? It was change that was long overdue, and I for one, am glad that it no longer needs to be simply an aspiration. However, meaningful change will always cause resistance, and banning senseless declawing will not be easy. The resistance will come from all sides, but I think with the precedent set, that change is possible, it’s time to get true change started and really ruffle a few feathers – or so the expression goes – let’s not forget our feathered friends in this either; I’m sure they share in our optimism as well.

—Dr James Rassi, m.v.

james rDr James Rassi was born and raised in the West Island of Montreal. He graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Science, and in 2008 he fulfilled a lifelong dream and moved to Melbourne, Australia to pursue a veterinary degree at The University of Melbourne. He returned home to Montreal in 2012 and has worked and gained valuable experience alongside some of the most respected vets in Montreal. He has a particular interest in internal medicine and has been recently concentrating on advancing animal welfare here in Quebec. He currently lives and works in the South Shore and enjoys playing Australian Rules Football, and spending time with his Rosie Animal Adoption rescue dog, Squirrel (pictured).

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5 comments

  1. Dr Jacqui Escobar MRCVS

    As a vet who has practiced in both Australia and the UK, I was shocked to hear that declawing is still legal and regularly performed in a country as developed as Canada. Declawing is synonymous with animal cruelty as far as I am concerned. I hope your campaign is successful and you can get it banned in Qebec ASAP.

  2. It’s such a shock that an advanced country can be so behind the times on an issue such as animal welfare. Thank you for the well written article, let’s hope it can start some change in not only your province but across the board

  3. Dr Hayley Newman BVSc

    Thank you for bringing such an important issue to the attention of the veterinary community as well as the public eye. This has to stop. Declawing, tail docking, ear docking, it all needs to end now. Let’s just love our pets as they are, warts and all.

  4. So happy and impressed that Dr Rassi has written this marvelous, much needed article. Declawing is inhumane, serving no purpose but to cripple cats, leaving them with a lifetime of pain & anguish. Declawing should be classified as animal abuse, it must be banned. Why there is opposition astounds me, why would anyone want to allow this barbaric procedure to continue unless it’s because of money.
    Thank you Dr Rassi for speaking out, for showing true compassion and ethics for our feline friends and family.

  5. James! I heard your no longer there and you are the best vet anyone can ask for!

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