Model Laws

Regulating Companion Animal Surgical Mutilation


Read Commentary


Sec. 1. Rational

Surgical procedures like declawing, devocalization, ear cropping and tail docking are extremely painful and can be permanently crippling for the animal. Often these procedures are done for convenience or cosmetic purposes and provide no medical benefit to the animals. Many practicing veterinarians refuse to perform these procedures if they are for non-therapeutic purposes. The best way to discourage cruel mutilations is to make it illegal to perform, procure or arrange a surgical procedure that would cause companion animals pain and suffering without a medical or therapeutic purpose.


Sec. 2. Definitions

a) Companion Animal: Domesticated or domestic-bred animals whose physical, emotional, behavioral and social needs can be readily met as companions in the home, or in close daily relationship with humans.


b) Surgical Mutilation: Any cosmetic or convenience procedure performed on an animal which results in the permanent physical alteration or disablement of a body part of that animal including:

  1. Surgical and non-surgical claw removal, declawing, onychectomy or tendonectomy, or any other alteration of an animal's toes, claws or paws that prevents the normal function of the toes, claws or paws;
  2. Cropping or cutting or causing to be cropped or cut off the whole or any part of the ear of an animal by making surgical incisions or otherwise, excluding the tipping of an ear for identification purposes under Sec. 4(c);
  3. Surgically debarking or silencing a dog, or causing the surgical debarking or silencing of a dog;
  4. Tail myotomy, including the cropping, docking or removal of all or any part of the tail muscle of an animal;
  5. Tail neurectomy, including any removal of a section of a nerve in an animal;
  6. Tongue myotomy, including any incision or cutting of the tongue of an animal to achieve a shorter appearance;


Sec. 3. Regulation:

No person may perform, or otherwise procure or arrange for the performance of surgical mutilations on companion animals.


Sec. 4. Exemptions:

a) Surgical procedures performed solely for the purpose of addressing an existing or recurring infection, disease, injury or abnormal condition that jeopardizes the animal's health, provided that:

  1. The surgery is performed by a duly licensed veterinarian in good standing at the time of operation;
  2. The animal is properly and adequately anesthetized at the time of the surgery;
  3. The extent of the physical alteration is no more than necessary, as suggested by the American Veterinary Medical Association and by community standards, to achieve the desired result of the surgery;
  4. The extent of the physical alteration is explained to and consented to by the owner or guardian of the animal. In the case the owner or guardian is unavailable at the time a medical decision must be made, an agent of a humane society or animal control facility may give his or her consent;
  5. All proper pre-operation tests have been conducted on the animal, unless the surgery is of an emergency nature in which case only necessary pre-operation tests are conducted;


b) Surgical procedures that include spaying or neutering, when done by a licensed veterinarian, while the animal is anesthetized.


c) The ear-cropping of feral cats when performed for identification purposes by a licensed veterinarian while the cat is anesthetized.


Sec. 5. Sanctions and Penalties:

a) Non-professional violators of this statute shall face a fine of $500 per violation or up to 30 days of imprisonment.


b) Professional violators, including veterinarians and veterinary assistants, shall face a fine of $1,000 or up to 60-day imprisonment per violation. Professional violators shall also face no less than three-month suspension or a revocation of his or her license.


Additional Commentary

Companion animal cosmetic surgeries have reached epidemic proportions. Over 130,000 puppies undergo unnecessary cosmetic surgery in the United States each year. These procedures can cause pain and distress, and are also accompanied by inherent risk of anesthesia, blood loss and infections.


Cosmetic surgeries such as tail docking and ear cropping are based on arbitrary "breed standards" set forth by the American Kennel Club. For example, a Doberman puppy born from two Doberman parents does not meet his or her own breed standard if the ears are not clipped and the tails are not docked.


Procedures such as ear cropping, tail docking, debarking or declawing cause suffering and disfigurement to the animal that is not offset by any benefits. The American Veterinary Medical Association has encouraged "the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standard," while the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights is opposed to various surgeries to meet "breed standards."


Currently, eight cities in California have a declawing ban: Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood. Declawing cats is also banned in nearly two dozen countries including: Australia, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Cosmetic tail docking and ear cropping is banned in most of Europe, as well as in many other countries, including Australia, Brazil and Columbia. Massachusetts also has an ear cropping law, which makes it illegal to show or exhibit a dog with cropped ears in a dog show within the state. Maryland and Massachusetts both have banned devocalization procedures. Furthermore, devocalization procedures are not widely included in American veterinary medical school curricula. There is a growing recognition that elective surgical mutilation is against the interests of the animals subjected to them, while the negative physical and psychological consequences may be far reaching.



Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association


Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center


Scientific American


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals


American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


Shouse California Law Group


[Return to Top]