(CBS)- New York became the first U.S state to ban the declawing of cats on Monday after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law. The state joins most of Europe, several Canadian provinces and cities across the country — Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver — in banning the procedure.
"This is a real triumph for cats and the people who love them," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. "This has catapulted New York to a leadership position when it comes to cruelty against felines."
Declawing involves amputating the first knuckle of a cat's toes. This is required since cats claws are attached to the bones in their paws. In the majority of cases, the operation is often performed to avoid damages to furniture and stop cats from scratching humans.
Supporters of the ban cite estimates that a quarter or more of all domestic cats in the U.S. have had the operation. Animal advocates believe it is cruel and unnecessary, however.
"For a cat, declawing is both psychologically and physically harmful," Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, a Bethesda, Maryland-based organization, told The Associated Press. "The surgery is traumatic, and the resulting disfigurement causes severe pain."
Although many vets supported the law, it was opposed by the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. The state's largest veterinary organization argued declawing should remain available as a last resort for cases where a feline's ability to scratch furniture and humans is a major problem or a health concern for the cat's owner.
"Medical decisions should be left to the sound discretion of fully trained, licensed and state-supervised professionals," the New York State Veterinary Medical Society said.
The law does allow veterinarians to continue to perform the procedure for medical reasons, such as infection or injury.
Similar declawing ban bills are pending in several states, including New Jersey, California and Massachusetts, according to The Paw Project, a California-based group that supports bans on declawing.