Declawing Raccoons: The Truth Unmasked

August 14, 2018

These are photos of a declawed raccoon that were posted on Instagram on July 26, 2018. The location was tagged “Safari Animal Care Centers” in League, Texas.

The purpose of this story is to educate the public about why they shouldn’t own a pet raccoon and also why they shouldn’t declaw them.

Here’s another photo on Instagram that was posted by the raccoon owner.

The founder and chief of staff of this veterinary practice, Safari Animal Care Centers, is Dr Steven Dale Garner. He’s a 37 year member of the AVMA.

According to his staff, he declaws many cats and many raccoons at Safari Animal Care Center. He is the only Board Certified Veterinarian in Galveston County, Texas. He is an accomplished leader in the veterinary profession. Dr. Garner also has been recognized as a member of the AAHA Standards Enhancement Task Force.

More about his accomplishments here. Dr Steven Garner’s accomplishments

Just to confirm that Safari Animal Care Center declaws raccoons, we placed a few calls inquiring about it.

When a person called Safari Animal Care Center to inquire about declawing a raccoon, the employee said they can do that and said they actually did a declaw on a raccoon the day before. The person asked if it’s ok to declaw a raccoon and the employee said, “With everything, some people might not agree, but if you want to home one and make it your baby, it’s ok.”

According to the employee, their raccoon declaw prices are as follows:  $405 for the front paws and $600 for an all four paw declaw. They said the doctor uses a laser and that it is less pain and less bleeding.

Another employee, when asked about getting a raccoon declawed and if their vet is skilled at the procedure, said that they do 2-3 raccoon declaws a week.

A vet tech, who said that they assist Dr Garner with the raccoon declaws, was put on the phone to explain some questions the caller had. The vet tech was asked if it is true that they do 2-3 raccoon declaws a week and the vet tech laughed and said that they do “quite a few.”

The vet tech said that some people think it’s like declawing a cat but that it’s not and said it’s like a removing a nail from a human finger that has soft padding under the nail.

The caller said that they were confused because they saw online photos of a skeleton of a raccoon paw and it looked like the claw was attached to the bone. The vet tech went online while the phone call was taking place and was adamant that raccoon claws are not attached to bone and said that they must have glued them to the skeleton in the photo.

The caller asked if it was harmful to declaw a raccoon and the vet tech said it’s not something they highly recommend but a lot of people who have them as pets don’t want to get “torn up.”

Another phone call was made to try to get an answer about the raccoon claw being attached to the bone from Dr Garner, but he wasn’t in the office. The employee asked Dr Garner’s wife, who is also a vet but doesn’t practice at Safari, and she conveyed this information to the employee to tell the caller. She said that they have to get in to get the root of the claw and that a little bit of the bone might be removed.

We have withheld the names of employees for fear that they might suffer a backlash for their honest answers.

More facts about raccoons. Raccoon facts

A check in the area of veterinary practices that treat exotic pets revealed that none of them will perform a declaw on a raccoon.

A vet at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston said that it’s not recommended to have raccoons as pets or to declaw them because it’s not humane and they don’t have retractable claws so it’s like cutting off the tips of their fingers. When asked if they declaw cats there, the doctor said they only perform tendonectomies on cats.

Another hospital that treats exotics, Westgate Pet and Bird Hospital (AAHA hospital) in Austin said that raccoons don’t have retractable claws so declawing them is taking out their whole nail bed and it would be like they were walking on “nubs.”  They declaw cats and ask if you want all four or two paws when a researcher called to check on their declaw fees.

Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital in League City said that raccoons are wildlife and they don’t declaw them. They declaw cats.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

I reached out to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to get some facts about declawing a raccoon and here is their response.

1) Keeping raccoons as pets is a horrible idea, and 2. Removing the claws of a raccoon is an equally horrible idea.

The claws of raccoons are permanently exposed (as in dogs and many other mammals), which is completely different from the situation in cats, where the claws are retractile. The claws are attached to and cover the very last bone of the fingers and toes (called the distal phalanx).. Removing the claw involves removing the bone—so it’s not just de-clawing the animal, it’s de-boning the animal.

The same is true for cats, but that last bone in cats is smaller and more slender than it is in a raccoon. It is not a trivial thing to remove those claws and bones in cats, and it’s certainly a pretty big deal to do it to a raccoon. Painful, yes. Potential for nerve damage, yes.

And if the raccoon is ever released back into the wild (for example, if the owner later decides it was a bad idea to have a pet raccoon), that released animal would be at a supreme disadvantage in the wild (they have claws for many reasons, including protection, foraging, etc.).

Jim Dines, Ph.D. Mammalogy Section, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Here’s a photo of the same raccoon after the 4 paw laser declaw with possible signs of damage to the paw pads from burning off the raccoon’s toe bones and claws. Close up of the declawed back paws.


Dr Garner also declaws cats, he uses a CO2 laser and an employee at Safari Animal Care Center said that they do cat declaws regularly. When a caller asks for the price of a declaw they ask, “Front or all four?”

The employee said that a front declaw is $500 and that they think an all four paw declaw is around $900. When asked who is best at the declaws, employee said Dr Garner is the one who does their declaws and that he is the only Board Certified vet in Galveston County. The employee said that they use the same anesthesia that Texas Children’s Hospital uses. Employee also said that Dr Garner recently declawed their cat and it’s all healed up after two weeks.

We reached out to Dr Garner to see if we could get some facts about declawing a raccoon from this expert and his take of this story. Here is the email correspondence.

August 11, 2018
Dear Dr Garner,
I wanted to get your input on how a raccoon is declawed since you are a board certified doctor and your staff said you do raccoon declaws often and to reach out to you this way.  I figured you are the expert and can give me the facts.
I know that declawing a cat is removing the claw and the bone it is attached to, so I was wondering if it is the same for declawing a raccoon or do you just remove the claw with your laser?
Is there any harm to declawing a raccoon? Does it hurt them in anyway long-term and what is the recovery time. Is there any reason it shouldn’t be done? How would one decide what’s best, 2 vs 4 paws?
I’ve heard declawing changes a cat’s behavior, will it affect a raccoon negatively too in anyway?
Thanks so much,


His response,

August 13, 2018


Just to be clear, I do not recommend the ownership of Raccoons.  In Texas I believe it is considered illegal to own such wildlife.  My veterinary position is that if people are going to own these pets against our recommendations – then and only then – will we provide veterinary care. They need someone who understands their nutrition and physical needs.   When a raccoon has been taken from the wild and reared in the home, it is difficult for them to return to the wild – ever.  This is because they have not developed the wild instincts to forage for their food and to be warily of their enemies.  Raccoons in captivity are always a problem however as they become aggressive (as interpreted by humans) and this aggression is difficult for most humans to manage.

Declawing is not recommended as it permanently changes a raccoons behavior.

Declawing cats was once common but is now frowned on and illegal in most other countries and some states.  If declawing is done it should be done to minimize pain, trauma, and to prevent the claws from growing back.  Surgical laser is one way to accomplish this.  Declawing a raccoon is no different except a raccoon is not a domestic animal.

Please leave the wildlife wild.

Best Regards,

Dr. Garner



⌒ ⌒

Steven D. Garner DVM, DABVP
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
Chief of Staff: Safari Animal Care Centers
Safari Knowledge Systems, LLC

 August 13, 2018

Dr Garner,

Ok, Thanks for the note. So just to be clear since I was confused. When you declaw a raccoon, you use a laser and are you taking off just the claw or the last bone with the claw?
Also, if someone was going to do it, what are the pros and cons to a 2 paw or 4 paw? What do you suggest and will there be a need to give pain meds to them for a few days when they are brought home?
How does declawing change a raccoons behavior?


August 13, 2018


I suspect your motives are not above board here.  There is a real moral and ethical dilemma when an uninformed person takes on an animal such as a raccoon from the wild and rears it in the home.  There becomes a real time when euthanasia is measured against declaw.  You know more about declaws than most on the planet and I do not appreciate your coyness about the gravity of declawing a wild animal.
Have a nice day.

Dr. Garner

August 14

Mr Garner,

  Actually I didn’t know a thing about declawing raccoons and was trying to get the facts from an expert who performs that amputation procedure on them.

I do not appreciate your coyness about pretending that declawing a raccoon is a serious thing when according to your own staff,  you perform lots and lots of 2 paw and 4 paw declaws on them.
I don’t appreciate your coyness to pretend to be an advocate for raccoons when you are harming so many of them by declawing them.
Are you referring to euthanasia and raccoons? Please explain that comment.
How do you justify declawing raccoons when it’s illegal for people to own them as pets?
My motives are to educate the public about the facts on why people shouldn’t have raccoons as pets and why they should never declaw them.
Do you educate the raccoon owners about what declawing is and why they shouldn’t do it to their raccoons?

Aug 17, 2018
To Mr Garner,
I received a heads up that you are now requiring raccoon owners to bring in proof of a license to own a raccoon before they can get their pet raccoon declawed or before you treat it.
Can you let me know what the name of that license is and what agency issues them so that I can add it to my story.
  I’m sure most raccoon owners aren’t aware that they need a license to own them in Texas, so this would be valuable information to share with the public.


August 17


I am happy to provide information to you – or anyone who is sincere and not adversarial with regard to the welfare and care of exotic animals – raccoons included.  Unfortunately, your article, and or your associates have caused immeasurable damage to me.  I have only dedicated my whole life to helping animals and those who own animals.  I am a pragmatist, not an activist.  I do not appreciate the attacks you have directed toward me, my staff and my clients.  My lively-hood my life-long pursuit is involved in saving pets – most of which, by far, are dogs and cats.  I have thirty staff members whose families depend on their jobs at Safari.  How dare you and your associates demand that we be closed down for declawing no more than 10 raccoons in 35 years of practice?  How is the destruction of my business for the greater good and welfare of animals?
Regarding licenses,  I do not know of an individual license to own raccoons.  With regards to wildlife, the local laws trump the state laws which trump the federal laws.  Texas law says it is illegal to own Texas wildlife while the USDA may publish guidelines for the humane ownership of such animals.  A USDA license may be obtained by some educational and rehabilitation entities or even individuals but this does not supersede the Texas law.  I am not a lawyer – so I may be wrong.  We do not ask any client about licenses to own the animals they bring to us as we are only interested in the medical care of the pet not the legal aspects of pet ownership.

Dr. Garner

August 17
Hey Steve,
 I’ve dedicated my life to this working on this cause full-time as a volunteer for the last 4 years and am all about protecting the welfare of all animals from having their toe bones and claws barbarically amputated by veterinarians who took an oath to ease the suffering in animals. My lively-hood my life-long pursuit is involved in saving animals from this sadistic cruelty and harm and I’ve used a good share of my savings to be able to keep working on it as a volunteer.
 First of all, I don’t know who you are referring to when you say my “associates.”
 I am a journalist and I am the one writing these stories that have nothing but facts in them. Last I checked, writing a story about animal welfare issues and about this cause is what a free press is about and is not considered attacking.
Shining light on this animal cruelty, educating the public, and writing stories about it are what I do.
 You might want to stop turning things around and playing the victim and get your facts straight. I never demanded that your practice is closed down and I never asked anyone to try to get your practice closed down, so I don’t appreciate your false accusations. I also do not appreciate you saying that I have directed attacks towards you, your staff and your clients. How did you come up with that Steve?
I always ask my famous cat’s followers to take the high road and just educate others about this inhumane and mutilating procedure, even though they see such cruelty and harm being done by humans who joined the noble profession of veterinary medicine, that is all about healing and helping animals.
Remember Steve, your actions of burning off the toe bones and claws on many raccoons (and cats) has caused immeasurable suffering and damage to the long term health and well-being of those animals.
  As far as I know, a vet practice can’t be shut down unless they are doing something that is against the law or if the vet med board takes action for something that isn’t the standard of veterinary care, so if you are concerned about your reputation and the livelihood of your 30 staff members you might keep that in mind.
 You say that in 35 years you’ve only declawed 10 raccoons.
 So are you saying that two of your employees, who said that you declaw raccoons 2-3 times a week and your vet tech who agreed that you do “quite a few” raccoon declaws, were lying? Also, why would it be that your experienced vet tech, who said that she is right by your side assisting you when you do the raccoon declaws, actually believes that you were only taking off the raccoon’s claws and that the claws aren’t attached to bone? Why didn’t you ever educate her about what you were doing when you declaw a raccoon?
 Can you explain why you declawed that raccoon on all four paws and why two other employees said that you had just done a 2 paw raccoon declaw the day before the phone call?  Were they lying too? Was the 4 paw raccoon declaw your number 9 declaw and the one that you did the day before the call the number 10 declaw?
 How are you helping raccoons by declawing them?
 According to a tip I received, why did one of your employees say yesterday that a raccoon owner now needs to prove they have a license to own a raccoon before you will declaw and spay it? Are they taking the liberty to say this kind of requirement themselves?
 How is declawing a raccoon “medical care” for the raccoon?
 I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure Federal law trumps any state law.
Very disappointed,


August 20

Ms. Shepler,

My clients, friends and staff call me Dr. Garner or DOC.  Steve is reserved for my family.

I grew up in the rural Arkansas Ozarks during the 50’s and 60’s where wildlife ownership was common, and we watched Elly Mae Clampett on TV “The Beverly Hillbillies” loving on her 6-pound young juvenile raccoon.  On the other hand, Fall and Winter weekends in rural Arkansas; it was not uncommon to go Raccoon Hunting where you could witness a 25 pound fully adult raccoon ravage a whole pack of larger dogs. Today, 50 or 60 years later most people see raccoons as either “Road-kill” or as vermin raiding their garbage.  Here in Texas it is perfectly legal to trap or in other ways kill a “vermin” raccoon on your property.  The raccoon population has exploded as they have migrated from the woodlands to the back alleys and yards of urban America in search of food. The Springtime brings many many cute, cuddly baby raccoons into contact with the public.  Raccoons have become one of the most important reservoirs and vectors of Rabies as they, unlike dogs or cats, can carry the virus without showing clinical outward signs and they go unvaccinated.

Wildlife rehabilitation specialists are licensed by the State of Texas to care for these babies and to return them to the wild.  Which they do by the truckload every year, in every location around Houston. We help with this process when veterinary care is needed.  Most ill or injured are euthanized. This year however we had one licensed rehabilitator bring us a young raccoon baby being bottle fed that had a cut around its mid-line so severe it required several surgeries to repair.  By the time this raccoon had recovered he was a youngster too late to rehome to the woodlands.  The “owner” had it in her home and had fallen in love with it and its siblings. They were in turn given to her sisters and or cousins and it is this family of raccoons that were declawed.  I am not sure of the family ties or details, but the families also had babies, toddlers and or young children. I am sure my staff was asking your “spy” if they were a licensed rehab specialist when they called with a raccoon question.  They were not requiring a license for ownership of a raccoon treated by us.

Animal Control officers are employed by cities and counties in Texas to control animals – in the case of raccoons, “control” means kill.  Even though the rabies vaccine works in raccoons, there is no legal definition of a vaccinated raccoon.  So, a vaccinated raccoon (unlike a vaccinated dog, cat or ferret) that bites or even scratches a human is killed.  There is no quarantine or consideration for people who have been caring for these animals.

If a raccoon is kept in a home in Texas it is illegal and will be confiscated and euthanized immediately.  This is what has now happened to the raccoon that you posted on your website.  Because of your publicity, the Animal Control has controlled this animal.  If a child is scratched the raccoon is killed. The purpose of declawing raccoons which cannot be returned to the woodlands is to prevent scratches that if reported could result in the raccoon’s death. Our recommendations to all people who own exotic animals from exotic cats, to wolf hybrids, to monkeys, to wildlife is to vaccinate the animals and to not publicize the ownership of them.  So many times, the result of bragging or showing off their pet, is death of their pet. As stated before, I do not condone the ownership of these animals or am I obligated to turn in my clients to the officials.  I am obligated, however, to the care of these animals and to the prevention of their death.

This one family represents all the raccoon declaws that I have done recently or in the past several years for that matter. The staff members you have spoken to are new to our staff and made unwise assumptions about how many raccoons we declaw. They see a lot of weird animals and are told to act as if it not their first time to see a sloth or alligator for example.  I am not in the habit of lying and do not appreciate these accusations. 

Laser is CO2 molecules hyperexcited and tuned to create a photon frequency that causes water to vaporize.  Cells are largely bags of water, so when their contents are vaporized it causes the cell to be disrupted by steam.  This is not burning, does not cause the same pain, but does allow accurate dissection not allowed by scalpel or electrosurgery. The nerves are sealed by the process and blood vessel collagen is constricted so there is no bleeding and visualization is easier.  This is important.  Think of your nails, they grow from bone, but it is your finger tips that are important.  Removal of the claws in a manner that is humane and so they will not grow back is done by laser so that the claw and the bit of bone that it grows from is removed while leaving the important finger tips or pads of the toes present.  This can be done with laser.  Look at the photos you posted.  The fingertips are still there and only the claws are gone.  This is not mutilation – it is done with laser under magnification to preserve the feeling and function of the toes.  The heavy bandages are to prevent the raccoon from doing self-trauma before the wounds are healed. 

Raccoons are now a part of our urban environment – here to stay – they are not just the woodland creatures of the past. Their mental capacity was measured and reported in last month’s Scientific American as being smarter than cats and even dogs in some manners.  They adapt well to the home and live twice as long in captivity than in the wild.  They change to an adult at 3 years of age and become aggressive and potentially dangerous, but not more than a rottweiler or pit bull. Do you ever think how cats and dogs were first domesticated? Do you ever think how you would feel if one day a knock at the door resulted in your loved pet cat being removed and killed by animal control?  Think about these things next time before you pass judgement on someone who may be more on your side than you realize.

Dr. Garner

August 20,

 So many things to address with many of your comments but I’ll ask you this one first. So you are saying that animal control took Sassy the raccoon in and euthanized her? Where did you get that info from so that I know it is fact?
You didn’t answer a lot of my questions in my email.
Also why would you do a two paw declaw on one raccoon last week and a 4 paw declaw on Sassy?
I’m not passing judgement on anyone. I’m writing stories with the facts in them.


August 20
We are certain it was Animal Control. We are certain it was Sassy. It was Friday. We do not know for sure the disposition of her. The clients are very upset and one blamed Safari although we had nothing to do with it other than our interactions with you.
I can attest that you have a tenuous relationship with facts.
Clients decide 2 vs. 4  based on risk vs. benefit vs. cost. Some animals are very sweet and some are not.
I am not happy to continue my education of you Ms. Shepler. As I said previously we have suffered from your attacks and only wish to stop this madness.

Dr. Garner

August 20

Mr Garner,

You said that Sassy was euthanized.  Is this a fact Mr Garner?

So the 10 raccoon declaws you’ve done in 35 years are all from the same family? Okie dokie.  Very interesting to say the least.

Posting a story with all facts is not attacking FYI.
Feel free to let me know what isn’t factual in my story and I will write a correction.

You’re big worded description of how your $35,000 laser works is a clever way to try to throw up a smokescreen and mask the fact that you are barbarically and unnecessarily burning off much needed toe bones and claws on cats and raccoons.
There’s no sugar coating this sadistic and mutilating amputation procedure and cruelty. Sorry. Nice try.

More Information About Dr Garner from his website.


“Ethical Standards For Safari

The Safari Code of Ethics sets the stage for how we “Ought” to behave. They provide a frame of reference for decision making as we care for your loved ones. This Standard includes many Ideals that we strive to achieve in our personal and professional life. Including, “Do No Harm”, “Respect All Life” , “Always Do What Is Best For The Pet”, and many others.”

Another motto they use is, “We Never Say No.” “We Never Say No”

I received a heads up that you are now requiring raccoon owners to bring in proof of a license to own a raccoon before they can get their pet raccoon declawed or before you treat it.

Dr Garner, touts all his accomplishments on his website. The history of Safari  Some of the info on the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners website says this, “ABVP Certification sets you apart – among the most ambitious, forward-thinking professionals in veterinary care, driven by a commitment to the wellbeing of animal and those who care for them.The ABVP board certified veterinarian has demonstrated they are capable of providing a level of clinical practice that is clearly superior to the norm of the profession. ”

Link to the ABVP page ABVP website

Here’s another screenshot from

Here is a screenshot from that talks about surgery for exotics.

Here’s a page saying that Safari Animal Care Center is a Fear Free Practice. (This Practice is NOT an officical Fear Free Certified veterinary practice)