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Book Chapter

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When pet animals share our living spaces, their needs and natural behaviors sometimes are at odds with the varying standards for household appearance, sanitation, and polite social life that Americans have established over time. How pet owners have resolved these issues provides insight into their changing ideas about the role of animals in their households and suggests how much, or how little, people may actually know about the biological behaviors and psychological needs of the creatures they care for. This essay examines one particular issue associated with the problem of sharing spaces: declawing pet cats as a common solution to avoid destructive scratching. This is a volatile issue and has generated much emotional debate. It pits loving cat owners who see such surgery as an act that breaches the trust of responsible pet care for their feline companions against loving cat owners who see the surgery as an act that strengthens their bond with their feline companions. It divides those in the animal welfare and veterinary community as well, where many opinions are believed to be the right opinion. The authors wish to stress that they enjoy the companionship of pet animals in their homes; pointing out the complexities and contradictions in living with pet cats is intended to acknowledge the historical, socially constructed, and changeable character of pet keeping and to encourage people involved in companion animal welfare work to consider why some practices can be promoted or simply tolerated, while others are problematic.