Episode 119 – Dr. Jennifer Conrad

Dr. Jennifer Conrad is a passionate animal welfare advocate who has cared for wildlife on six continents for over two decades. Currently, Dr. Conrad’s professional responsibilities are divided between working with nonprofit wildlife sanctuaries for unwanted and abused animals in southern California and administering her own company, Vet to the (Real) Stars, which provides humane veterinary care to animals appearing in television and movies. In her former role as head veterinarian at a wildlife sanctuary, Dr. Conrad founded the Paw Project, which rehabilitates big cats, such as lions, tigers, cougars and jaguars maimed by declawing.

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Website: https://pawproject.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pawproject

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Dr. Jennifer Conrad is a passionate animal welfare advocate who has cared for wildlife on six continents for over two decades. Currently, Dr. Conrad’s professional responsibilities are divided between working with nonprofit wildlife sanctuaries for unwanted abuse animals in Southern California and administering her own company that to the real stars, which provides humane veterinary care to animals appearing in televisions and movies. In her former role is head veterinarian at a wildlife sanctuary. Dr. Conrad founded the pop project, which rehabilitates big cats such as Lions, tigers, Cougars and Jaguars maimed by decline. Hey, Dr Conrad, welcome to the program. Thanks, Chris, for having me well, really excited to have you and to learn about the pot project in your history. So why don’t you start us off and just give us a little bit about you. Well, I’ll tell you this. I love animals, and I despair, actually, love cats. And so when I it was at UC Davis for vet school, they gave me the option of tracking kind of that I was going to be, and I chose to do wildlife, mostly because I wanted to be able to work on any animal in any situation. The rest of my family’s in human medicine so they could only work on the people that I can work on any animal. So I started working in wildlife, and that brought me to a sanctuary in Southern California, where I was the head vet. When I got there, I saw all these big cats who had been declawed, which is, you know, declawing is a misnomer. It is not declawing. It is Dean knuckling. It is amputating a toe bone in order to remove the cloth. You know, when you look at our hands, the nail grows from the skin, but when you look at an animal’s hands, the nail grows from bone, and so in order to remove the claw, you have to remove the bone. And I saw these big cats, and they were in various states of suffering from being declawed. But all of them were suffering. And I thought, You know what? I’m a veterinarian. I’m gonna fix this on. And I went and talked to human hand surgeons about how they would repair if someone lost a bone in their fingers. And I talked to venerate surgeons about how they would repair a Paul. And we came up with this surgery and we decided we’re going to repair the paws of these big cats. Well, in April of 2000 I took a three and 1/2 year old tiger to surgery. He was only three and 1/2 and he had been declawed and he was already limping. So I just said, You know what he’s going and we went into surgery. We shaved his paws and we started reconstructing his paws. Now, not that I put new nails in. But what I do do is I reconstruct the anatomy so that even though their paws are shorter, they have the ability to grasp and open their paws, like more or less like a normal cat, just without the claws. So I took him to surgery, and when he woke up, he was standing like a normal cat. Now, before he had been standing kind of on its wrists like he had oven mitts and his paws were loose, a flop be. And when he stood up, he was standing like a regular cat. I thought was just because he can’t feel his balls because we invested ties and he never fell back down. And so I thought, Wow, I felt like a TV evangelist. So this cat had such a remarkable transformation. I started doing it on every single cat I could. Big Cat, I’m talking about that I could find who needed it. And by the time I had done eight cats, there was not a single cat who hadn’t improved markedly. And I thought, Wow, this has got to stop people from wanting to De clawed their cats Well, what happened in a nutshell was Hernane. Molina, who is the deputy to the mayor of West Hollywood, came to visit me because he wanted to see what I was doing. He had just found a declawed cat who had lost its home, was in the parking lot, and he heard that I was doing these de clawed repairs. So he came to visit me and we went and we looked at this lion s an African lioness who’s pause. I had repaired a few days before, and it was time to take her bandages off. And she had these green bandages on. And she was like, My new shoes are making my paws feels so great. You cannot take them off. So it’s gonna have to knock her down to take her bandages off. And I was so frustrated, just had knocked her down and we repaired a pause, and I just wanted to get those off so that she could start. You do not have to worry about having bandages on too long. And I turned to earn an and I said, Hey, why don’t we make it illegal to Deke Law in West Hollywood? Because I’m so sick of this problem and he’s like, Oh, we could do that. And that’s like, started, Yeah, that started the PA project. That sentence changed my life. I started to realize that this was a big problem and that we had to do something. And so in 2003 we banned declawing in the little city of West Hollywood. It’s only 35,000 people, but that made world news. It was such a big deal. And then I decided, OK, I’m gonna protect all cats from declawing any animal I can from being declawed by a crusade. And that started the Paul project. Wow. Say, this was the first place you worked at out of that school. Well, it wasn’t the first place. What is the first place where I was the head vet? Okay. And so you’d notice that this is a problem. You said I’m gonna do something about it, and that’s really just where it began. It just began from you waking up and saying this is not acceptable. No, it’s not acceptable on their doctor. And they’re clearly suffering from this procedure that another doctor did to them. I have to do something about it. So now when did this become like an accepted standard? And it is this something that they teach in vet school. The first article that I know of about the decline was in 1952 this guy named Meisner, Alfred Meisner, who was a Canadian born veterinarian who worked in Illinois he took it on it like a dog and pony show about how you could do this to cats. It’s unbelievable how cruel what he wrote was because the anesthesia was so poor and how he was doing. He was just chopping their nails. I mean, their bones off with a dog nail clipper for basically and just with no pain management, nothing. And this took off in the United States and Canada. He took it to England. And the English are like, Yeah, no, that’s basically State is, um and it’s masochistic and it is cruel and unnecessary mutilation? No. So it didn’t take off anywhere else in the world. So he took it and spread it throughout the United States. It became a very, very big business in the United States, where binaries would like supersize a spay or neuter. Hey, do you want a D call with that? And people didn’t know what it was because it says de clawing when it should be called the knuckling. And then people would be like what you’re gonna do, Dean, that call my cat? I don’t think so, but de clawing sounds like some magical manicure that only a vet can d’oh, but it really isn’t. It is removing in bones, so that’s where it started. And that’s why it’s such a hard thing to fight because it’s not only very lucrative for veterinarians. They’ve also been doing it for, you know, 60 plus years. And the other reason is because people don’t want to admit they’ve done something wrong. And because cats are so stoic, it’s hard to know that they’re in pain. So a lot of people will say, Oh, my cat’s not in pain It’s fine. I d caught my cat It’s fine, but it’s not true. I can show them study after study where you can show that Deke or caps are have altered the way that they walk. They’ve altered their confirmation, and so they have back pain and joint pain, arthritis, all sorts of problems. But most people are oblivious to that. Yeah, because it’s not something I mean, when you go to that, you’re the respected person, right? So we bring our cat to you. And like you said, if the vet says kind of like buy two, get one free, it’s like Oh, okay, sure. I mean, you’re the vet, you wouldn’t do anything bad to my Yeah, exactly. And that’s why it’s such a heart problem to fight because people who don’t do their research before they go to the end and they trust their veterinarian. My vet would never do something bad to my count. My vet loves my cat, and maybe the vet does love your cat. But this is not in the best interest of your cat. If it were at all good for cats, I wouldn’t be fighting like this. I mean, I just want to make sure that listeners understand one that people often say, Well, I’d rather have a catty Claude than have it lose its home. And if that were true, I would be on your side. But declawed cats because they come home from the vet and their paws are hurting. They go to dig in the litter box, they will stop using the little box. They will like me. Yeah, I’m done with this thing. It hurts too much. So now you have a cat who’s peeing and pooping outside the boss. That is a big problem. And if you think that someone who’s intolerant of cat scratching isn’t gonna be intolerant of a cat not using the box. Yeah, think again. Because that’s why declawed cats lose their homes. They lose their homes because they’re not using the box and they lose their homes because they’re biting. And why are they biting? Because they have no choice. They have no other way to protect themselves. And also, they’re in pain. Yeah. I mean, it’s it is kind of interesting when you think about it. For those people we have, we have four cats, right? And we’ve got, you know, all sorts of scratching posts all over the place because it’s just a natural instinct for cats to scratch. And I know that something that certainly people don’t like it when cats are scratching their furniture or anything like that. Like you pointed out, if they really knew with the long term implications are they might be more willing to try and solve that behavior problem or put more scratching posts or any of the I mean, there’s lots of solutions on the market that can curb the behavior, to get them to do it where you want them to exactly. And it is a behavior issue, and behavior issues should be solved with behavior management. Surgical issues like let’s say, a tumor should be starved with surgery. Behavior issues should not be solved with surgery, which is the case of decline and also the case with lobotomy. It’s basically a surgical solution for a behavior problem. And that is wrong, period. And yeah, I know you mentioned before when he took this and was going to other places in Europe, they rejected him. So is it standard practice in Europe and the rest of the world like it is in the U. S? No, it’s really only in the U. S. And in Canada and in Canada. I would like to give the Canadians kudos because seven out of their 10 provinces to abandon the last couple of years with the PA project pushing them, and they did it. So now we have three provinces left in Canada and 49 states in the United States also demand which way we have to do what you have. What state has banned it completely? New York State Bandit on July 22nd 2019. Oh, wow. So just recently, just this year, yes, just this year, Governor Cuomo and it it. He is signing letter. You know where he describes why he signed it. He said. This is archaic. It’s unnecessary, it’s cruel and it causes pain. We do not need this. Wow. So now is the power project than trying to use that to get other state legislatures to pass lessons? Well, it took us five years in New York. But because New York is a state that people look as like a leader, Florida introduced legislation immediately. New Jersey has already introduced legislation. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, West Virginia Believer, Not Rhode Island. We’re hoping for legislation in Colorado and in Arizona in the new year, so we have a lot of places working on it right now. We’re working on it in Portland, Oregon, in Austin, Texas, and I don’t know if you saw. But on Wednesday, ST Louis studied the problem, and they voted their first committee hearing. It passed unanimously in ST Louis, Missouri. So it is moving. The problem is, of course, that the Veterinary Medical Associations, which starred the trade organizations that are interested only in keeping the bottom line for veterinarians high. They always oppose us. That’s interesting, because you would think that with all of the research and the science that we have nowadays that it would be really difficult for them to oppose it. Well, it is difficult to it, but that’s the new World is that it doesn’t matter what the facts say. It matters what they want to say, and so they’ll come up with these excuses that sound sort of plausible. Like, for instance, Oh, you know, what about older, thin skinned individuals who are in committed? What if they can’t have their cat’s declawed? Are they get a loser cat? But if you look at what the CDC, you know, the Centers for Disease Control, Third Authority and I. H. U S Public Health Service is Canadian Medical Associates. All these human health organizations say declawing a cat is not advised to protect human health. One, they bite to the claws. If you’re trying to protect human health, remember that the bite wound is way more significant to immuno compromised people and declawed cats bite more. They have to to protect them. So so and then remember, people come up with the O cat scratch fever. Well, that’s just total misnomer. It isn’t song. Yeah, it’s totally though cat scratch fever comes from flea poop. So it just as easily could have been called paper cut flea poop fever. Because it’s any wound that gets flee pooping. No rhyme is well for the song, so I just I think it would have been more accurate. Yeah, that is really fascinating. And it’s interesting. I mean, as you know, how were shaped over time by songs by popular culture by again. Why would I challenge my event if my that says this is a good thing? I wouldn’t change that. And because these veterinary associations air still opposed to it. So where do you see the biggest opportunity? It sounds like you’re getting a lot of traction with some of the states and the provinces. Well, I think that that more that the public knows, the more I think we’ll have success because once the public is in on what is actually happening and that there are many veterinarians who are absolutely opposed to decline because they know what it is and they really care about cats. So I think that once the public really gets an idea about it, then they won’t go to veterinarians who d Cola and then veterinarians who don’t d call. We’ll get more business. And so it will force the market to veterinarians who don’t d call. I’m curious. Is there any statistics that attract as to how many d call surgeries air performed with the U. S. Every year? What we know is that 25% to in some places in the Midwest, which is where you are, it’s up to 50% of cancer declawed. So we know that that is established in the veterinary literature. So when you think about this, the veterinary medical associations say it should be a last resort only implemented after all, the humane alternatives have been exhausted. And yet 25 or maybe 50% of cats like that’s a last resort when that many are being de clawed. And the other thing that I think people should realize is that 76% of declining is performed on cats who are fewer than eight months old. So again, how could that be a last resort? You’re talking about Kim. It would be like taking the teeth out of, ah puppy because it shoot your couch. What? Yeah. No, don’t go to surgery. When you have a behavior issue, Goto a behaviorist, learn how to protect. And the other thing I want to make sure people understand. It said that when a cat is clawing a couch, you should be honored. They’re clawing where you sit because they want other cats. No. Hey, that is my dad or my mom and no other cat is allowed near. And I’m marking this territory so that everyone knows this is my mom or my dad. And so it’s Hunter. They’re marking you. They’re saying, I love you, You love me and this is our relationship. And since you didn’t provide me with adequate scratching post, I’m doing the couch because I got a mark. Exactly. I got to make sure what else knows that you belong to me. So that is really interesting. You know, obviously we have domestic cats, but I didn’t realize that this was a practice on the big cats as well. Yeah, it is unfortunately. Well, let’s say this. Fortunately, it’s less and less in the sense that California has banned it for large, wild and exotic cats. California actually banned that in 2005 and that was the Paul project doing that and the other good news is the USDA, which is the governing body over. People have these cats. If they have legally. It also says you can’t do it. But what’s more interesting is that the Endangered Species Act recently it was judged that declining is a take of the you know, which is it’s a violation of the Endangered Species Act of D calling these big cuts. So that’s federal. And that is across the continent, I mean, across the United States. And I am proud to say that Paul Project had a big hand in that. Sounds like you guys have really been instrumental in starting the movement. So where do you take it from here? Tell you this. It is getting ST Louis. If everything goes well, it will be done in the next few weeks. So that’s interesting. All I can say, I don’t know when this will air, but in ST Louis will be done in the next two weeks or three weeks. Maybe we’re trying very hard in Massachusetts because it seems like they want to do this because New York did it, so they got to do it. Features of the same. So we’re working across the country. But I honestly have to tell you that it would make me most happy is if the population of the United States and Canada just said This is wrong, We’re not doing it. So I don’t have to go state to state of province to province banning. It’s so obviously wrong to amputate Cat’s toe bones because it’s marking the furniture because it wants you to know how much she loves you. It’s just so wrong. Yeah, it does seem counterintuitive that, like a lot of problems, it’s an education thing and getting people to understand what’s really happening. Because, as you pointed out, it’s not called the knuckling cause nobody would do that. It’s called Decline. Well, yeah, you just take the clothes off. But everything else is fine, so there’s definitely a big awareness and education that needs to be done to let people know what’s really happening here. Yes, they need to know end day after No, This, also that it is one of the most painful, routinely performs surgeries in all of veterinary medicine, and yet many many vets are afraid of pain. Meds and cats cause cuts can have weird reactions to pain meds and so they don’t get any payments. Yeah, the hurts me, They even think about that. And, you know, our cats are Children, Really? I mean, they all have their place in the household, and, you know, they all have their good days and bad days and behavior and all these other things, and they’re part of our family. And to ever think of them in pain, it just breaks my heart to think that that’s kind of a normal practice. So I’m really glad you’re taking this on. Is this initiative? And I’m kind of curious as you look back upon this. Is this how you thought things would turn out when you started this back in 2003? No, I gotta tell you, I used to think when I started in 2003 I thought, Oh, all veterinarians will be so happy I’m doing this because nobody would want to do this to a cat. It’s disgusting. I have never done it to a cat. I gotta tell you never de clawed a cat. I’ve prepared their paws, but I’ve never actually done the Deco and I thought all that it would be so happy that I’m doing this at no. And in fact, I’ve gotten son really funny letters. I mean, they weren’t intended to be funny, but they would say, Jennifer Conrad, TVM question mark, Don’t you know that Klaus can put an eye out questions? And then one time, I was at a conference for cat vets and I thought people would like me. This was right after many people would be happy what I did. This was right after it passed in West Hollywood, and I sat down at one of those lunch and learned, you know where you get your lunch and then someone’s gonna lecture you. I said, down it’s crowded table and everybody got up and left because they were so yeah, and I thought, Okay, well, guess what. There is not a single cat on the planet who’s mad at me for what I’m doing. And I don’t care if you stupid veterinarians are mad at me because I know this is right. So they were mad at you because it’s taking revenue out of their business or it’s making them look at because they’ve always offered it or it’s you know they do it better than the guy down the street, so they don’t want the guy down the street to keep doing it and they stop. You know, that’s that’s how they look at it. But, you know, regardless, it is wrong. There’s no question it’s wrong. History will show all these people that it’s wrong, and I really use cafs as my barometer. And if there was a cat who was mad at me for doing this, then I would seriously rethink it. But no cat. There’s no cat who’s mad at me for doing this. No cat wants to suffer this way. One of the interesting things I want to point out is, and you’ve actually gone so far as to get a movie put together. That’s on you said it on Amazon Prime Now, Yeah, it’s on Amazon Prime is called the Paul Project. It’s a documentary about they crusade to make it illegal that he called cats. It’s about California, and it’s got to you most Hollywood ending you could ever imagine. It’s got such a happy ending, and for anyone who’s interested in watching it, just know that all the big kitties that you see film whore limping. They all got their pas repaired, so don’t feel bad about we’ll definitely will. Make sure to put a link to that so people can find that. But it’s on Amazon prime, as you pointed out and tube on other places, too. Oh, sure, sure. So, Dr Kenneth, I’m just curious. What have you learned about yourself from doing this project? First of all, I learned that I really love cats and that I feel like my whole existence has to be to do something to protect them. I mean, I love all animals. Don’t get me wrong. Dogs get de clawed, too. But for some reason, when dogs get to Claude, people are like tow hook. Why would you call a dog as if it’s different than a cat? It’s the same. It’s removing a knuckle. I really feel like it’s a shame that I have to spend my life fighting something that should never have taken foot in the United States Canada. But I feel like there are cats, all of New York, since we bandy clawing their no cats getting declawed, and that is the cats of 20 million people in California. We’ve band declining in eight cities. Those are the cats of five 0.2 million people in Denver, Colorado. We bandy, clawing those air the cats of 700,000 people. So we’re working on it, trying to protect cats on a big level because, as you know, you can toil with animal after animal, and that is gratifying. And you could help a lot of animals by doing it that way. Or you can change policy. And once you change policy, you change it for all cats. Yeah, absolutely. And it’s the harder road. But I’m really excited that you took that road, and it’s gotta feel very rewarding out to look back 16 years later and see that they’re passing state laws now because of you, that where this is now going to be illegal, so that’s gonna feel very rewarding. It’s rewarding, but it’s never enough because I look at New York and go wow, one state down, 0 49 to go. Oh, no. And even though Canada seven provinces down, there’s still three more provinces. That’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s very gratifying, but I wish it would catch on like wildfire and just go and be done. And then I could have another career. Yeah, but we’ll certainly do what we can to try and help you. And I’m really glad that you came on the show today to talk about it and raise awareness to this. Is there anything else, Dr. Conrad, you want to mention before wrap things up? I just wanted to let everyone know two things. One is if you have a declawed cat and you’re a rescue group and you’re afraid that this cat has bad behaviors, please contact the Paul Project because we are repairing the paws on little cats, domestic cats. And we have a program called New Lease on Life That’s helping Claude Cats and we’re taking these cats out of rescues. Who cannot. They cannot be adopted because they have behavior problems, getting them out of pain, reconstructing their poets. And we’ve had 100% success of finding them new homes because they are now not acting out. And the other thing I wanted to let everyone know is there is no good reason to declawed cat period in. So please, please don’t fall for it. Yeah, and that’s really good words to end on. So, Dr Conrad, thank you so much for coming on. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Yeah, And you, too.

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