TACOMA — The city of Tacoma is considering banning declawing cats, as well as changing penalties for noise complaints against neighbors with loud animals.
At a meeting Tuesday night, City Council members seemed in favor of the changes, and no one spoke in opposition. A final reading will take place next week.
Council member John Hines sponsored the ordinances, along with council members Olgy Diaz and Sarah Rumbaugh. At the meeting, he advocated for the city to join others nationwide that have banned cat declawing, citing its long-term damage to cats.
If passed, cat declawing would be allowed only for therapeutic purposes approved by a licensed veterinarian, according to the ordinance.
To declaw a cat, a veterinarian amputates the last bone of each toe on a cat’s paw. According to the Humane Society of the United States, declawing can result in paw and back pain, infections, tissue death or lameness in cats. Improperly removed claws can regrow, causing nerve damage and bone spurs as well. Cats that have been declawed can change their behavior, avoid using the litter box and become biters.
“I think we have many cat owners in our city that think they’re doing a simple, basic procedure to protect their couches, but [are] really putting their cats in a dangerous place,” Hines said.
In working with the local humane society, Hines said he learned that cats that are declawed are more likely to be surrendered due to behavioral issues. The humane society said those cats also are less likely to be adopted, he said.
Declawing was a practice that was invented in the 1950s. Since then, there have been alternatives pet owners can try, like trimming a cat’s nails, putting covers on a cat’s nails and investing in scratching posts or pads, Hines said.
In Tacoma certain procedures like docking a dog’s tail or posting their ears are also not allowed, he said.
“I think it’s beyond time for us to make this choice and prevent something that we now see as inhumane,” Hines said. “Choose cats, not couches.”
Animal noise ordinance may be amended
Another topic discussed Tuesday night was removing a misdemeanor charge for public disturbance and nuisance noise made by an animal within the city limits.
In the Tacoma Municipal Code it is unlawful for any animal to make noise that “unreasonably disturbs” the peace of anyone for more than 15 minutes in any one-hour period of the day, as documented by three or more separate episodes of noise in a seven-day period. Public noise disturbances can result in both a civil and criminal penalty, jail time or the loss of those animals.
Hines’ proposed ordinance would remove the criminal misdemeanor penalty and maintain only a civil penalty because most animal-noise complaints received by Tacoma Animal Control are driven by punitive and escalatory behavior among individual neighbors, rather than genuine unlawful animal concerns, he said.
Tacoma Animal Control receives an average of 635 individual animal-noise complaints each year, and 70% of them are ultimately deemed invalid because of neighborly retaliations, according to city documents.
Hines proposed the ordinance should require at least three different individuals in three different residences to complain about noise within seven days in order to result in enforcement action.
“The goal of this ordinance is to move away from just one neighbor being able to use Animal Control in such a way as to punish their neighbor for animal noise, or in retaliation for other things that may be happening between the neighbors,” he said. “The goal is to kind of de-escalate the situation between neighbor and neighbor, moving away from a private nuisance into the area of if it’s a public nuisance and it’s impacting more than just one person.”
Animal Control will investigate all complaints, including cases where animals might be making noise because of abuse, Hines said.
“If you look at codes of other cities around the city of Tacoma, like the city of Lakewood and City of University Place, the City of Fircrest — they also have a similar structure at which point animal-noise complaints escalate to a civil infraction, meaning you’re going to need more than one neighbor complaining about your animal and its noise before Animal Control takes action,” he said. “So we’re just bringing ourselves in line with what other cities around us are doing to address the animal noise.”
Council member Catherine Ushka proposed adding an amendment that would exempt lawfully owned poultry from noise-complaint enforcement to encourage urban farming and sustainability practices. Ushka said the city already regulates domestic fowl raised for meat or eggs.