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D&eacute ;scratching and other veterinary surgeries now prohibited in Quebec

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From today, declawing, tail docking, ear trimming and devocalization are prohibited.

  • Amélie Mouton ( View profile)Amélie Mouton

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Highly awaited by the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec and animal rights movements, the Regulation on welfare and safety of pets and equines comes into force this Saturday in Quebec.

Enacted in August 2022, this regulation strengthens the protection of companion animals, such as cats and dogs, but also rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, pet pigs, horses and other equines .

It provides in particular for the ban on cosmetic surgery procedures on animals, such as the declawing of cats, the removal of the vocal cords of dogs or the cutting of tails and ear trimming, long practiced on certain canine breeds, including boxers and Dobermans.

We salute that very loudly. We have been waiting for this regulation for years, because we did not have the regulatory power of the legislator, rejoices Dr. Gaston Rioux, who chairs the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec.

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Dr Gaston Rioux, president of the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec. (File photo)

In fact, the Order of Veterinary Physicians already strongly recommended against these operations, so much so that most veterinarians had stopped offering them. Research has in fact shown that these surgical procedures are a source of suffering for animals. They did nothing for them in terms of their health, on the contrary often leading to complications.

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Declawing cats, for example, has long been a very anchored in Quebec customs.

In the past, to say that you took good care of your cat, you had him vaccinated, sterilized and declawed. We didn't know how to live with a cat that had claws.

A quote from Lucie Hénault, veterinary doctor

Declawing, however, has serious consequences on a cat's health. This is equivalent to amputating a knuckle. In the long term, he may suffer from osteoarthritis problems because he has more difficulty moving. 30% of declawed cats have aggression problems and 15% have problems with cleanliness due to pain in their paw pads, which can discourage them from going to their litter box, explains Dr. Rioux.

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Declawing has many negative consequences on the health of cats.

In recent years, cat owners seem to have gradually abandoned the use of this painful procedure, as veterinary doctor Laurie Bouchard has observed. She is delighted to see more and more cats with their claws and boxers with their tails. As for dogs deprived of their vocal cords, she has only encountered two since the start of her career at the Rive-Sud Veterinary Center in Brossard, 16 years ago.

The table had been set for a long time, so this change in law is welcomed positively by people, she believes.

A few days before the new regulation came into force, Radio-Canada observed, however, that a veterinary clinic in Trois-Rivières still offered the declawing service.

It saddens me, but it reinforces my idea that we must continue to communicate on the fact that this is not a trivial surgery, reacts Dr. Rioux. There are simple alternatives, the veterinarian insists: trim the cat's claws, put rubber protections on the tips of its claws and above all, offer it a scratching post in its living space.

When you put the couch above your pet, maybe you shouldn't have one.

A quote from Dr. Gaston Rioux, president of the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec

Since the regulation came into force, declawing has become illegal in Quebec anyway. Veterinarians who continue to perform these surgeries face fines of $1,000 to $25,000 and risk being disbarred, Dr. Rioux warns.

What would happen if pet owners decided to turn to veterinarians in Ontario, the only Canadian province that still authorizes this type procedures? The legislator has also provided for penalties, he warns.

More broadly, the regulation defines the minimum requirements to be respected when keeping or breeding domestic animals. It forces owners to offer them a living environment adapted to their needs, specifying what is authorized and what is not.

Dr. Laurie Bouchard, for example, welcomes a provision concerning female dogs intended for breeding. The law states that they cannot have a litter until they are 18 months old, which is extraordinary and will really make a difference. They cannot have more than two litters in a row. For some breeding females, it was one heat after another, it was distressing.

As for animal rights movements, we welcome a major breakthrough, which testifies to an evolution in Quebec society and which itself echoes a great revolution in Western societies. They are in the process of fundamentally reviewing their way of considering animals, observes philosopher Christiane Bailey.

New scientific knowledge about the mental and social life of animals has in fact swept away many beliefs. We now know that their mental lives are much richer and more complex than previously thought. Furthermore, in ethics and politics, we increasingly recognize that what matters is the ability to be a vulnerable individual, who has emotions, she emphasizes.

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Pigs are animals as sensitive, social and intelligent as cats, recalls philosopher Christiane Bailey.

Sophie Gaillarde, director of animal defense and of legal affairs at the Montreal SPCA, recalls that Quebec is the only place in North America that formally recognized animals as sentient beings in law, in Bill 54, adopted in December 2015.

Before this law, an animal was considered property and had the same rights as furniture in Quebec.

Me Gaillarde nevertheless regrets that this law included in the Civil Code does not necessarily translate into concrete changes, particularly with regard to farm animals , who are the big forgotten ones of this new regulation.

We really have a two-tier system in Quebec. Pets are well looked after, with fairly robust protection. Farm animals are exempt from the main protections of the law, which means that it is the industry itself which determines what is permitted and acceptable.

A quote from Sophie Gaillarde, director of animal defense and legal affairs at the Montreal SPCA

This situation opens the door to practices that compromise their well-being, she denounces, citing the example of castration without anesthesia, carried out routinely on pig farms. If we did the same thing to a cat or a dog, we would be liable to imprisonment.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) defends itself by recalling the existence of “Codes of practice for the care and handling of farmed animals”, used to implement this law.

They are developed collaboratively by animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, breeders , animal welfare researchers, governments, processors, food companies and other stakeholders concerned with the care and well-being of farmed animals, argues its publicist.

For Christiane Bailey, however, there is a moral boundary between the animals we eat and the animals we love, which is not justifiable on one point from a philosophical point of view.

Farm animals depend on our societies, on our care, they are under our total control and it is a collective responsibility to take care of them and ensure their protection.

A quote from Christiane Bailey, philosopher

For her, one of the problems lies in the dual mandate of MAPAQ, which must both ensure the protection of farmed animals and take care of their exploitation. The ministry is in a conflict of interest. This is why the animal rights movement is calling for the creation of a dedicated ministry or dependent on the Ministry of Justice to better protect them.

On the side of the MAPAQ, we assure that the improvement of the animal condition is at the heart of the concerns of the many professionals who work there, veterinary doctors, agronomists or animal health technicians. Animal welfare is an evolving field and the ministry follows scientific and societal advances in this area, affirms its public relations officer.

Me Gaillarde, however, notes that Quebec is lagging behind European regulations, in particular. Many practices in force in Quebec are prohibited there because of the suffering they cause to animals, she explains. For her, they are inevitably called to evolve, because Quebec society tolerates less and less what happens on farms.

With information from Elyse Allard

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