When potential adopters work with One by One Cat Rescue, they have to agree to certain terms, including a stipulation that they won't put their cats through a potentially painful declawing operation.

The small, Temple-based organization does not allow adopters to pursue the surgery, a staple of veterinarian offices since the 1960s.

"For the most part, people think about declawing to protect their belongings," said Linda Rosencrans of Blandon, president of One by One. "If they're hedging about it, we give them information on all the problems that it can create in the long term."

While cats may be unable to scratch after having their front claws removed, they can suffer residual pain, often cause by chipped bone fragments that feel like a pebble in the shoe. That tenderness, in turn, may lead them to avoid the litter box and begin making messes elsewhere in the house.

That, Rosencrans said, leads to returned pets, now harder to adopt out with a track record of potty problems.

While One by One has had a no-declaw rule since it formed in 1994, several cities and states are looking at making the procedure a crime. It's a recognition of shifting attitudes about animal welfare and a clearer understanding of how declawing actually affects animals.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, cats scratch to remove the dead outer layer of their claws, to mark their territory by leaving a scent and when they stretch their bodies.

But owners have always grappled with that scratching behavior, trying to keep animals from destroying expensive furniture, carpeting or even window ledges. Other owners can't risk being scratched because they are immunocompromised or have blood clotting disorders.

Genesis of a movement

In 1952, a Chicago veterinarian proposed others take up a practice his office had been performing: onychectomy, or removal of the end of a cat's toes.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, Dr. A.G. Misener's description of the "simple" surgery in a letter published by the American Veterinary Medical Association was the genesis of a movement.

According to some estimates, as many as one-third of cat owners once chose to declaw.

Now, the pendulum is swinging the opposite direction.

About 20 countries have banned the procedure, and so have San Francisco, Los Angeles and several other cities in California. Some veterinary clinics have begun refusing to perform the surgery.

In January, the New Jersey General Assembly approved a bill that would classify declawing as an animal cruelty offense carrying jail time and financial penalties. It could become the first state to impose a statewide ban; New York is considering similar legislation.

Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Conrad has backed those legislative efforts and others as founder of The Paw Project.

She worked with declawed big cats for years before training her sights on the plight of house cats. She says even though most cats now receive pain medication to take the edge off their postoperative pain, they may experience time-released pain years later.

Series of amputation

Declawing is a series of amputation, de-knuckling a cat's front claws and severing tendons at the joint. Rosecrans equates the procedure to cutting off the tip of a human finger above the last knuckle.

An alternative laser technique also causes pain and complications, including serious burns, according to The Paw Project.

"It is not a simple procedure, which many people do not realize," Rosencrans explained. "It is an actual amputation of the toe and is very painful. The recovery can be long for the cat."

The Animal Rescue League of Berks County doesn't have an official policy against declawing. It would be difficult to enforce given then organization adopts out more than 1,500 cats each year.

Instead, shelter staff and volunteer fosters encourage adopters to address unwanted scratching behaviors by providing scratching posts, toys and other distractions, and by keeping nails trimmed.

"We don't condone (declawing) because we know how painful it can be, and it can affect their behavior as far as using the litter box," explained executive director Liz McCauley.

At the ARL, adopted cats must be kept indoors as pets, so defending themselves shouldn't be an issue.

May need claws

But cats do escape, and in those cases may need front claws to fight off other cats or to climb to safety.

Still, there's no consensus on the declaw debate.

Some veterinarians and their associations argue that the surgery likely prevents some owners from euthanizing scratch-happy cats.

The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association has come out against the New Jersey legislation, with their executive director predicting a declawing ban would reduce adoptions and increase owner surrenders.

In a statement, the association said most veterinarians already view declawing as a last option.

"There are owners who are unwilling or unable to change their cat's behavior (scratching people in the household or furniture) and are likely to abandon or euthanize their cats if declawing is not an option," the association said. "The NJVMA believes that declawing is preferable to abandonment or euthanasia."

The association also argued that modern medicine provides better pain management and an alternative laser surgery can improve outcomes versus traditional declawing methods.

But Rosencrans sees another motivation in such defenses.

"For vets, it's a big money maker," she said. "They don't tell you the pain the cat is in afterward."

Like the ARL, she suggests providing good scratching opportunities - climbing towers, disposable cardboard pads and dangling toys - for cats to stretch their feet and claws. Her volunteers entertain adoptable cats on display at various pet stores with a basket of feathered and shimmery toys and make sure to include carpeted items in their cages.

Trimming the nails on a regular basis can also help. Rosencrans suggests doing it about once a month, which will leave the nails more like a butter knife than a steak knife and mean less damage to furniture.

Contact Kimberly Marselas: life@readingeagle.com.