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Posted at 01:02 PM ET, 09/17/2012

Kitten declawing leads to felony charge for D.C. man


One of two kittens maimed by what investigators suspect was a home declawing. (Washington Humane Society)
UPDATED 5:45 P.M.

Sadly, this is news to some people: You should not declaw cats at home.

A D.C. man is facing a felony animal cruelty charge after Washington Humane Society investigators determined he had mutilated two eight-week-old kittens in a botched attempt to remove their claws.

Eric F. Gaskin, 39, was arrested Friday, four months after kittens Beta and Gamma were taken to a city animal shelter unable to walk. A Society news release describes what happened after the May encounter:

The kittens were taken immediately to a local emergency animal hospital, where surgeons found that each of the kittens’ claws had been ripped from their feet. In the process of this home declawing procedure most of the bones in each foot were crushed, including each of the kittens’ four legs. Doctors believe the breaks occurred when kittens struggled to escape.

Due to the severity of the injuries, the kittens were euthanized.

“This was nothing more than an extreme case of torture,” said Scott Giacoppo, a Washington Humane Society vice president, who called the case one of the most brutal he’s seen in 20 years of animal welfare work.

Cat declawing is a dangerous and controversial procedure even when performed by a trained veterinary surgeon, Giacoppo said. Cats’ claws are extensions of their foot bones, not soft tissue analogous to human nails.

Giacoppo declined to discuss details of the investigation — including how the maimed kittens were discovered or traced to Gaskin — while the prosecution is underway. “We protect our sources of information to the bitter end,” he said. “If we don’t, people will be less likely to report things.” He did confirm it wasn’t Gaskin who sought help for Beta and Gamma.

Gaskin’s attorney did not immediately return a call for comment. He was released after a court hearing Saturday on the following condition: “Defendant may not own, possess, or maintain any domesticated animals.”

UPDATE, 5:45 P.M.: An affidavit filed by Humane Society investigator Daniel D’Eramo indicates it was Gaskins’ sister who took the kittens to the city animal shelter on May 7.

In an examination there, “the ends of the toes on all four paws of both kittens, including the dew claws, appeared to be scabbed over and caked with debris and kitty litter with no claws visible,” D’Eramo wrote. “Their injuries were consistent with an intent to amputate the digit.”

A surgeon who examined the kittens said the “appearance of the wounds suggest a ‘clipping’ instrument was applied over all the skin, digital pad and distal phalanx crushing the tissues and smashing the bones.”

“This would have been an extremely painful experience for the kittens, and they would have struggled to get away,” the surgeon said. “The pain would have continued as every step would have aggravated the traumatized tissues.”

Five days after the kittens were brought to the shelter, D’Eramo spoke with Gaskins at his home on Dubois Place SE in the Greenway neighborhood. Gaskins told him he’d gotten the kittens for his daughter about a week prior, buying them from a woman who “claimed that the kittens had already been de-clawed.” When D’Eramo visited the cats’ seller, she denied having de-clawed them and said Gaskins had told her he would have them de-clawed “because he didn’t want them tearing up his furniture.”

Court records show Gaskins, an Air Force veteran, has twice been convicted of assault charges in the past 10 years.

Here is the investigator’s affidavit:

By  |  01:02 PM ET, 09/17/2012

 
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