The Paw Project Is Helping Big and Small Cats Thrive After Declawing

Declawing cats is a subject that has stirred controversy and raised concerns about the welfare of our feline friends. While some might view it as a quick solution to prevent scratching, it’s essential to understand that declawing is not just the removal of a cat’s claws; it’s the amputation of their toes at the last joint. The procedure is painful, inhumane, and can have severe consequences for our pets.

The Paw Project, a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Jennifer Conrad, is on a mission to change the way society perceives declawing and protect our feline companions from the distressing effects of this practice.

Dr. Conrad’s vision is a world where declawing is not just discouraged but eliminated.

Dr. Jennifer Conrad started The Paw Project to help declawed cats.

Photo: Facebook / The Paw Project
Dr. Jennifer Conrad started The Paw Project to help declawed cats.

Rescuing cats, one paw at a time

Dr. Conrad’s journey with The Paw Project came out of her desire to help animals recover after being declawed, often performed for the entertainment industry.

Domesticating a wild animal often leads to negative outcomes. Big cats are no exception. The mutilation caused by declawing has consequences that can last a lifetime.

“When I finished vet school, I worked mostly with exotic animals and big cats and I saw so many of them had been declawed,” she says. “They were suffering from it. So I thought, I have to try and do something for them because they can’t live like this.”

Declawing can lead to immediate and long-term health risks for cats.

Photo: Facebook / The Paw Project
Declawing can lead to immediate and long-term health risks for cats.

Recognizing the dire need for change, and finding herself in the perfect place to take action, she did.

“I had a mutual friend with the deputy mayor to the City of West Hollywood, and he had just found a declawed cat a little domestic cat,” Dr. Conrad recalls. “He came to visit me while we were working on a big lion who wouldn’t let me take her bandages off after I did her paws. So she was frustrated, and I didn’t want to knock her out again. And I flippantly said to the deputy mayor, ‘Why don’t we make it illegal to declaw in West Hollywood?'”

That conversation launched The Paw Project’s mission to educate other veterinarians on the dangers of declawing, despite the money it brings in to vet offices.

“I’ve had veterinarians tell me that it’s their bread and butter or that they make $75,000 or $85,000 a year declawing and they’re not going to stop,” Dr. Conrad says.

Cats undergoing declawing may suffer from pain and discomfort post-surgery.

Photo: Facebook / The Paw Project
Cats undergoing declawing may suffer from pain and discomfort post-surgery.

The Paw Project’s approach is not about bringing back what’s lost, but about providing relief and improving the quality of life for cats that have been declawed. They conduct a unique procedure called “Paw Repair Surgery” to mitigate the pain and suffering caused by declawing.

The surgery salvages the paws by taking out infected bone and reconnecting the tendons. That way, the the paw is more functional, even though it’s shorter.

“We’re not putting bone back in, we’re just making the best we can with what’s left,” Dr. Conrad says.

By her estimate, the organization has to date helped 80 big cats over the course of 240 surgeries, and hundreds more domestic cats have benefitted from the operation.

Declawed cats often experience lameness or difficulty walking.

Photo: Facebook / The Paw Project
Declawed cats often experience lameness or difficulty walking.

Reparative Surgery for Declawed Cats

The reparative surgery performed by The Paw Project involves making an incision on the underside of the toe, at the site of the former claw, all the while avoiding the pad. In cases where part of the third phalanx remains, the procedure includes exposing the partially amputated bone, removing infected tissue and nail remnants, and re-contouring the bone’s end.

Tightening the suture repositions the pad closer to its proper anatomical position. While the surgery cannot fully replace the damage done, it offers improved extension and flexion of the paws, allowing cats to grasp objects, reducing chronic foot infections’ pain.

As Dr. Conrad notes, declawed cats often lose their homes as they have lost a critical way of defending themselves and result to biting, and they use the litter box less because it hurts to dig in the sand.

After reparative surgery, these cats are more adoptable, and less likely to become a tragic statistic.

Choosing alternatives to declawing is crucial for a cat's overall health and happiness.

Photo: Facebook / The Paw Project
Choosing alternatives to declawing is crucial for a cat’s overall health and happiness.

Hope for a Declaw-Free Future

Dr. Conrad’s ultimate goal for The Paw Project is to eliminate declawing completely. She envisions a world where no cat, big or small, has to endure the pain and suffering brought about by this practice.

My true hope is that I put myself out of business,” Dr. Conrad says. “I’ve accomplished my goal if declawing is nowhere on the planet. No one does it. No one would ever think of doing it. Then I could say I did what I wanted to do — to protect cats from something that’s egregious, and it’s their doctors doing it to them.”

With the help of a Facebook Group, New Lease on Life – Vets Helping Declawed Cats, Dr. Conrad is reaching other veterinarians who share the same view of declawing, and the message is spreading.

Several cities in the United States have banned or restricted declawing. New York, Maryland, and nine out of ten Canadian provinces have taken steps to prevent this inhumane practice.

The biggest challenge, Dr. Conrad maintains, comes from the American Veterinary Medical Association which has resisted bans on declawing. But hope remains, especially as The Paw Project and advocates continue to raise awareness.

Dr. Conrad encourages cat owners to refuse declawing and seek alternatives. “Ask for a referral to a humane veterinarian,” she says. “If veterinarians realize they’ll lose money by performing declawing, they might reconsider.”

Declawed cats are at a higher risk of complications from other surgeries.

Photo: Facebook / The Paw Project
Declawed cats are at a higher risk of complications from other surgeries.

A Glimpse of the Future

The Paw Project’s tireless efforts are an essential part of a broader movement aimed at protecting the rights and well-being of animals. The future they envision is one where declawing is a thing of the past, where cats can stretch, run, and play as nature intended, without pain or suffering.

The power to make this vision a reality is in our hands. Join the cause, support humane alternatives to declawing, and contribute to a world where our feline companions are safe from the risks and consequences of this inhumane practice.

To learn more about The Paw Project’s work and the impact of declawing on cats, you can visit The Paw Project website.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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