New York's Legislature passed a bill Tuesday that would make the state the first in the U.S. to make it illegal to declaw a cat.
The bill, which would subject veterinarians to $1,000 fines for performing the operation, now heads to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose representatives said he will review the bill before deciding if he will sign it.
Declawing a cat is already illegal in much of Europe as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, but no other U.S. state has voted to ban the procedure, which involves amputating a cat's toes back to the first knuckle.
Unlike human nails, a cat's claws are attached to bone, so declawing a feline requires a veterinarian to slice through tendon and nerves to remove the last segment of bone in a cat's toes.
Supporters of the ban include animal welfare advocates, some cat owners and some veterinarians, who argue the practice is cruel and barbaric. They have predicted that other states will follow with their own bans.
"New York prides itself on being first," said the bill's sponsor in the state Assembly, Manhattan Democrat Linda Rosenthal. "This will have a domino effect."
The New York State Veterinary Medical Society had opposed the bill, arguing that declawing should be allowed as a last resort for felines that won't stop scratching furniture or humans - or when the cat's owner has a weakened immune system, putting them at greater risk of infection from a scratch.
"Medical decisions should be left to the sound discretion of fully trained, licensed and state supervised professionals," the society said in a memo opposing the legislation.
Under the bill, veterinarians could still perform the procedure for medical reasons, such as infection or injury.
The bill was first introduced years ago and has slowly gained momentum as more lawmakers came out in support. Tuesday was the first time the measure has gone to a vote in either the Senate or Assembly.