Declawing Cats: It’s not a trip to the salon

By Anna Gamez, Animal Care Manager

Declawing cats is still a normal practice for many pet owners. They may see declawing as a quick fix to stop unwanted scratching on furniture or to themselves. What many people do not know are the negative long term effects that come with declawing. People often think declawing is taking the nail off - just like people trim their fingernails. False. In fact, the process includes surgery and the amputation of the last bone of each toe. If performed on humans, it would be cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. It doesn’t sound too great when we put it in our terms. When performed on cats, the end result can be life lasting and negative.

Unfortunately, this is how life is for our beloved Mountain Lion, Sacajawea. Sac came to Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary when she was just over 2 months old. She was then declawed (all four feet) January 2008. There is no reason as to why she was declawed. The sanctuary was in a turn over situation and had no Executive Director during this time frame. The board president at the time had made the decision to have the declawing performed [this person is no longer involved with YWS].

September 18, 2019 was Sac’s wellness exam with our local veterinarians. This exam was checking everything from oral health, blood, and x-rays on all feet and pelvis. The main focus was on her feet and pelvic area due to her poor gait. Everything checked out great for her except her feet. We could actually feel the way her bones healed from the declawing. They had curled inward permanently causing a great deal of strain and pressure every time she walked. The x-rays were still being processed. Once the x-rays were received and our vets had looked them over, it was concluded that for some time Sac has been in some amount of pain and discomfort. All of this was caused by declawing.

Sacajawea getting her foot x-rays

Sacajawea getting her foot x-rays

Knowing what we knew, we had already set in motion to move Sac into our Bobcat’s enclosure and vice versa. Her “new” enclosure has flatter terrain to alleviate the unwanted pressure to her feet. Along with moving her into a more suitable habitat, she is now receiving Gabapentin, which treats chronic pain.

Since the habitat switch and the addition of Gabapentin, Sac is much more content. She is out and about in her enclosure much more than before and has been observed making sounds that signify play. With all of this being said, her overall well being would greatly increase had she not been declawed.

We always do the best we can for the animals at Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. This is their forever home. No matter the injury, age, or illness that occurs or they come in with, we will always give them the best quality of life that they deserve.

If you care, leave them there

Every spring, our phones start ringing as people call in for help with injured and orphaned animals. We work with rehab and rescue facilities and other sanctuaries to help when we can. We've participated in successful rescues this year of mountain lions, various birds, a skunk, and a weasel, among others. We've had a few heartbreaks, like the little pronghorn that didn't survive. We have also had to say "no" quite a bit.

Most of the calls this spring have been raccoons — over 35 of them. Almost all of those calls were from people who spotted babies and collected them because the parents weren't around. Male raccoons don't help out with raising the babies, which means the mothers have to leave their babies alone to go out hunting for food. They're pretty sneaky, so you may not see the mother coming back to feed the babies. If you take the babies away, though, you're almost certainly dooming them.

Other calls were from people who had taken in raccoons as pets and needed to re-home them. Young raccoons are adorable, and can be cuddly little creatures. As they grow into adults, many become aggressive or destructive, and just aren’t suitable to have around the house any longer. Additionally, depending on where you live it may not be legal to keep a raccoon as a pet. Some states, including Montana and Idaho, require special permits. Some, like Wyoming, do not. In 21 states, it’s illegal (more info here).

Be aware that in most states, the permit is for you, at your home only. You can’t legally send your raccoon to a friend’s house when you go on vacation, and very few boarding facilities will accept one.

Meeka in her habitat

Meeka in her habitat

We don't have room for any more raccoons. Another habitat would cost us $5,500, which we don't have in our budget right now (although we'd happily accept donations!). Most rescue operations won't take raccoons because of rabies concerns. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks isn't accepting them.

The best thing to do if you find "abandoned" baby raccoons (or deer, or birds, or...) is just to leave them where you found them unless you're absolutely certain the mother is dead.

Can you help us?

We need your help saving some beautiful mountain lion cubs!

About a month ago, a mountain lion was hit by a car and killed in Wyoming. Her three cubs were about five months old, and would have spent another year and a half with her learning how to hunt and live on their own. The cubs came in close to town, and the male succeeded in killing a deer on someone’s lawn.

At that point, Wyoming Game & Fish had to step in. Rather than euthanizing the cubs — standard procedure across the country in most cases like this — they chose to look for a way to keep the babies alive. They called us.

We don’t have room for three more mountain lions here at Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. They may be cubs now, but they’ll be full-grown soon enough and they’ll need a lot of space. We found a facility that does have room — a fantastic sanctuary called Shambala in California — and they agreed to take all three if we couldn’t get them released into the wild. At that point, we enlarged and outfitted our quarantine area and told Wyoming Game & Fish we could take the cats.

Starting the rebuild of the 300 square foot quarantine area, which is inside a heated barn.

Starting the rebuild of the 300 square foot quarantine area, which is inside a heated barn.

Since they were expected to spend a couple of weeks with us, a box with a concrete floor wouldn’t cut it. We had to attach a water bowl to the fence, set up a way to get them food, put in “habitat furniture” like igloo dens, hay bales, trees, and bedding, and work out a transfer mechanism to get them in and out safely.

As this was going on, we scoured the country for a rehab and release operation that could put the cubs back into the wild. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to find anyone that could do it.

After the trees, dens, and bedding have been brought in.

After the trees, dens, and bedding have been brought in.

There was obviously paperwork to do as well. Various government organizations had to be notified, we had to get clearance from the state of Montana, and the cubs had to be vet-checked and chipped before crossing state lines. Once that was done, we brought them in.

They arrived rather unhappy (here, the male cub is letting us know what he thinks of being moved), but healthy. Wyoming Game & Fish had been feeding them well, and they’d already put on some weight.

They arrived rather unhappy (here, the male cub is letting us know what he thinks of being moved), but healthy. Wyoming Game & Fish had been feeding them well, and they’d already put on some weight.

When we transferred them to our quarantine area, the sisters went immediately for the sheltered area that we built for them.

When we transferred them to our quarantine area, the sisters went immediately for the sheltered area that we built for them.

Throughout this process, costs have been building up, and that’s just the beginning. We’re looking at extra staff time, vet bills, transfer crates, rental of a van to take them to their permanent home in California, and more. If we want to be prepared for this kind of rescue in the future, we need to substantially improve our holding pens and construct at least one more permanent outdoor cat habitat.

How can you help us? We’re glad you asked! Any cash donation will be gratefully accepted, and you can do that right here on our website. We also need a van for safer and warmer transport than our pickup trucks can provide. If you can help, we — and these beautiful cats — will thank you for it!

We are a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit and all donations are tax-deductible.

Donate to the Cat Rescue now!

Gary Robson Promoted to Executive Director

Gary Robson, who has been running the education department for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary since last March, has been promoted to Executive Director of the Sanctuary effective today. Prior to that, he served on the Sanctuary’s Board of Directors.

For about four years, the Sanctuary has operated without an Executive Director, with four department heads reporting to the Board of Directors. With the number of projects and improvements in the works, the Board felt that it was time to put a single person in charge of the Sanctuary.

The Board made several other changes in staffing, including promotions for Nigel Murphy and Koby Kasten, elimination of two positions, and the creation of three new positions. Those new openings will be posted on the Sanctuary’s website and elsewhere.

“We have a strong team at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary,” Robson said, “and I am looking forward to expanding that team and continuing the great work everyone has been doing.”

Two of the Sanctuary’s big projects, the new gray wolf habitat and the migratory bird building for the sandhill cranes and turkey vultures, are nearing completion. This summer, the Sanctuary added a new raccoon, a ferruginous hawk, and two coyote pups. The front deck was rebuilt, and the Sanctuary is now raising funds for a remodeling project in the education building.

Fun Run 2018

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is extremely grateful for the generous donors who supported us through the Fun Run. We appreciate each and every one of you! Providing life long sanctuary to wildlife is costly, but we are dedicated to our mission and believe that although it is unfortunate our wildlife are not able to live in the wild, their lives at the Sanctuary are safe and fulfilled because of the support we receive through donations.

Some of our habitats are over 20 years old and no longer meet the needs of our wildlife. Each year we try to update one of these outdated habitats. During 2017 and 2018, we used money from the Fun Run and other grants and donations to expand our wolf habitat so we are able to offer sanctuary to 3-4 wolves in need of sanctuary when it is completed.

We also embarked on our largest project and built a new sandhill crane and vulture habitat. We are finishing this project up and it will allow our cranes and vultures a safe and warm enclosure with natural lighting during our harsh winter months. This also allows our education programs related to these species to continue throughout the year without interruption due to bad weather.

In looking to the future, we are planning on construction of a new felid habitat which will allow our mountain lion, Sacajawea, to have more area on flatter ground and thus she will be able to be more active without having to move up and down an incline which is painful due to arthritis in her front legs. This project also opens up other exciting opportunities for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary that we will be able to share with the public as construction and updates to the wildcat habitats near completion. As always, we look forward to your visit to see our wildlife and the ongoing progress happening because of your generosity.

Thank you!

Part of the Fun Run experience is volunteering. Many of the Sanctuary staff and board members helped out at the Fun Run. Gary (holding the skull above) staffed the Sanctuary’s education booth.

Part of the Fun Run experience is volunteering. Many of the Sanctuary staff and board members helped out at the Fun Run. Gary (holding the skull above) staffed the Sanctuary’s education booth.