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Written by Shari Lynn Rothstein-Kramer   
August 2011

How a simple pet adoption turned into a showdown over kitty declawing

bigstock_Adorable_Cat_1071784I’m an animal lover. Always have been. I’d venture to say that I like animals more than I like people. And after I tell this story, you may see why.

It began a few weeks ago, when my mother-in-law decided that she wanted a kitten. It was a huge decision; she vowed there’d be no more pets after her 15-year-old Yorkie passed away.

I can understand that. She’s 71 years old and doesn’t want more responsibility, nor does she want her heart broken again when the inevitable happens. But like all animal lovers, the allure of fur often outweighs any potential pain down the line. And so off to my local PetSmart we went.

Ah, the Aventura PetSmart on Biscayne Boulevard and 210th Street. I know it well. I’m there constantly. It’s where I buy food for my two cats and my dog, and where I go when I want a kitten fix.

Which brings me back to my story. Nervous chatter filled the air as we neared the “Adopt A Stray” cat cages. And while there only for moral support, my husband and I were as excited as my in-laws. Always even-keeled, they feigned nonchalance. We looked, we saw, we selected the sweetest little white and brown Siamese mix.

My mother-in-law immediately knew the one she wanted. She was head-over-heels in love. They played. They bonded. Done deal. My in-laws filled out the requisite forms, and instead of having them drive back to Boynton Beach hungry, we went to lunch before completing the adoption.

Fast-forward one hour and we’re back in PetSmart, the anticipation incredibly high. “We’re here for the Siamese mix,” said my mother-in-law to Edie, an elderly volunteer.

Edie, whom I have seen many times, pulled out the application and simply said, “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” I asked.

“It says on her application that she intends to declaw. We do not award kittens to people who are going to declaw. Sorry,” she matter-of-factly said before turning away.

Within seconds, the look of confusion on my mother-in-law’s face turned to pure sadness. The queen of nonemotion was about to cry.

“Seriously?” I asked Edie sharply. “You are joking, right?”

“Um, no. She cannot have the kitten. We do not release kittens to people who intend to declaw them,” she repeated.

Her tone wasn’t nasty or angry; it was more deadpan, like it was just another day. And to her, it was. But to Mom, it was the end of the world. Her heart was being broken once more, and I had to stand there and watch. But anyone who knows me knows that I will never let someone I love get hurt.

“This is unacceptable,” I shot back. “You’re telling me that you’d rather a kitten remain homeless than be brought into a loving, caring home because it may get declawed? That’s ridiculous.”

“Have you ever read about the declaw process?” she asked, starting to condescend. “If you’ve ever read what it entails, you’d know why… [condescending tone getting worse, my tolerance waning]. Do you know what they do? They…”

“I know what they do,” I snapped back. “I’ve had cats since I was eight years old.”

“Well, then you should certainly understand.”

“No, I don’t understand. Not even a little. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I don’t agree, nor do I find this acceptable. A woman wants to give an animal a good home, filled with warmth and food and lots of love, and you won’t let that happen. Seriously? It’s not for you to make that call.”

And I was just getting started.

But rather than recount word-for-word the blossoming “discussion” that ensued, let’s skip to where my mother-in-law simply shook her head, looked at the ground, and, her voice cracking, hoarsely whispered, “C’mon, let’s go. I’ll find another.”

It was devastating. And then we left.

Adopt A Stray, a nonprofit foster-care program, preaches that abandoned and abused animals deserve a chance for better lives. They claim they look for “long-term, compatible relationships for the animal and the family.”

Then why was my in-laws’ adoption quashed? I can’t understand how an organization that spays and neuters animals can turn squeamish when it comes to another procedure, especially when someone who would provide a great home is involved. I was so incensed that I went back to PetSmart two weeks later to speak with the Adopt A Stray people.

I didn’t see Edie, but I did see that poor homeless kitty still awaiting adoption, and I was so angry that it was probably better that Edie was nowhere in sight. I did speak with a sympathetic and reasonable woman named Marlene Blauder. She tried to explain their rationale -- it’s cruel, it’s mean, it’s inhumane -- and all I could think was: “Is her husband circumcised? That’s pretty brutal, too, isn’t it?”

I admit the declawing process is pretty appalling, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. And I believe it should be a personal choice -- between my pets and me.

I don’t have a problem with PetSmart. I like the folks at my local store and choose to frequent it rather than Petco or any other big-box pet store. I did want to find out if it officially supports the “no declaw” policy, as I spend a lot of money there and won’t accept the brand condoning such a ban. I can only equate it to pro-lifers who vehemently impose their beliefs on others.

Unfortunately, when I went to the manager, she clammed up and redirected me to the national office. When I reached out to PetSmart national, Jeff Davis, senior communications manager of PetSmart Charities in Arizona, responded.

His first e-mail consisted mostly of canned stats and facts (but I learned they “don’t support” declawing), and although I asked to speak with him, he flatly refused, stating, “I prefer e-mail because you told Kelley at PetSmart that your column would not be portraying PetSmart in a positive light. That type of comment indicates that your mind is made up no matter what we say, so I prefer to document my responses.”

That’s one weak response from Mr. Davis. He should’ve picked up the phone and had a conversation with me. Instead he hid behind e-mail. I’m a reasonable person and never thought about trashing PetSmart. (Nor do I know who “Kelley” is.) And while it should choose adoption partners more carefully, I don’t hold bad policy against the store. That’s all on Adopt A Stray.

In fact, the only thing wrong with PetSmart is its choice of media-relations people.


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