England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Cats, local government and getting your claws out


Since5041589338_70592bf360 most of the Internet seems to run on cats, it was inevitable that LGiU would have to have a picture of a cat on our website at some point.

Last night I watched a documentary on cats on Netflix . The Paw Project. I nearly turned away during the fairly gruesome bit on the mechanics of declawing cats. But I’m glad I didn’t because it turned into a story about local government and a poignant example of the kinds of things that we’re trying to argue in the Municipal Futures.

Declawing cats is banned in the UK and much of Europe, but it’s still not only popular in the US but also very lucrative.  Jennifer Conrad, a California veterinarian, was sick of seeing the big cats she tended to crippled and in pain from declawing. She pioneered surgery to help them, but then decided that banning the procedure would be much better.

Interestingly she and her friends chose to start the ban at local government level. The local mayor, who had his own cat declawed and regretted it, supported her ban. Despite protests from the vet associations, the ban passed.  But then they were challenged in court.  I was amazed to see the local council fight all the way to the state Supreme Court. But they did.

Then the vet associations did something sneaky. In the state governing body, they introduced a ban on bans – a state law barring councils from setting bans on declawing in their local communities.  A fairly shocking fettering of local choice.

But the new law wouldn’t come into effect for some months – and the rest of the Paw Project follows the team as they work with councils across California to get local ordinances passed to ban declawing before time.

San Francisco, a progressive city, were particularly shocked by the control the state had imposed on them.  They passed the ban. I’d urge you to watch the film just to see some of the open council hearings.

While I’m sure most British readers would naturally be in favour of a ban on declawing, the municipal point is sharper. State law had, in practice, declawed local government. In the Municipal Futures essay The Global Council, Lizzie Greenhalgh argues that councils are often in the position of having to take the high ground and their closeness to the issues means they can take the lead on thorny moral and social issues that are harder to deal with at the local level. Andrew Walker writes about The Powerful Council and how power isn’t a zero sum game but also how local government has an obligation to flex its muscles to serve local people (or cats) and this power flows from the individuals and groups that reside in them.