Story published on June 13, 2023.
Dr Cynthia Rigoni is the Secretary of the Houston Humane Society.
Dr Cynthia Rigoni has been doing declaws for over 25 years. According to an employee at her clinic, she also has declawed her own dogs. More information below in our story.
In 1991, a cat owner came to Dr Cynthia Rigoni’s All Cats Veterinary Clinic in Houston, TX for just a neuter.
Dr Rigoni performed the neuter and then started to declaw the cat. On the third toe bone, she realized she was performing an unauthorized procedure but she kept declawing the cat and then notified the owners of the “error.”
According to the veterinary medical board paperwork below, she committed gross malpractice and her license was suspended for 2 years.
This was posted by a cat owner on Facebook on June 8, 2023.
June 2023. We wanted to check to see if Dr Rigoni is still declawing cats so one of our researchers asked for the cost of a neuter and declaw. The employee who has worked there for 25 years asked, “Front only or all four?”
The employee said a 2 paw declaw is $400 and a four paw declaw is $500. They said that Dr Rigoni uses a blade to declaw the cats. They said that they tried the laser for declaws and Dr Rigoni was not satisfied with it because “you could smell burning flesh.” Researcher asked if the cats are ok after a declaw and she said, “I’ve been here 25 years, yea.”
Here are some reviews of Dr Rigoni’s clinic.
Here’s our information from a 2016 story about Dr Rigoni and declawing. Here’s our story from 2016 about Dr Cynthia Rigoni. Houston Humane Society’s Dr Cynthia Rigoni and declawing. 2016
Dr Rigoni was the President of the Houston Humane Society in 2004-2006.
Our investigative team looked into how All Cats Veterinary Clinic addressed declawing in 2016 for a story about why the Houston Humane Society was still declawing cats.
Here’s what we found.
Dr Cynthia Rigoni has been doing declaws for a very long time, over 25 years.
In 1991, a cat owner came to her practice for just a neuter. Dr Rigoni performed the neuter and then started to declaw the cat. On the third toe bone, she realized she was performing an unauthorized procedure but she kept declawing the cat and then notified the owners of the “error.”
Here is the link to this case from the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. https://www.veterinary.texas.gov/SearchBoardOrders/pdfs/Rigoni_Cynthia_1992-18_4662-02.pdf
The Suspension and Fine-
Here are the full transcripts about this declaw and also another serious disciplinary order against Dr Rigoni- https://texasveterinaryrecords.com/Rigoni%201992-09.pdf
We tried to interview Dr Rigoni for a comment about who sets the declaw policy at Houston Humane Society, how declawing Nikko affected her, and other questions about declawing but never received a reply.
We spoke with employee T about this and here’s what she said.
Employee T said she works at the front desk, has done technician work, has worked in the food industry , has been working in the pet industry and the animal industry, and has been showing cats for over 20 yrs.
When employee T was asked about Dr Rigoni declawing Nikko in 1991, she said, “Do you know how long ago that was? Most of the people aren’t working here anymore. I have no comment about that and she has no comment. You are assuming you know the full story. You have one side of the story and every story always has two sides. I understand you want to create an inflammatory article against declawing which is your right. But it is also anyone’s right to declaw their cat.”
Employee T then went on to say, “you should be doing a story instead, about a well known cat food company that is, knowingly killing cats with food that they sell and their own research tells them that, not just maybe deforming them.” She said, “They create a diet for thyroid and they know through their own personal testing that fish is linked to thryoidism and messing with the thyroid.”
We asked her about their declawing policy at Dr Cynthia Rigoni’s, All Cat’s Veterinary Clinic and asked why they don’t counsel owners, why they suggest declaws with spays/neuters, why don’t they tell cat owners the truth that it is inhumane and mutilating to declaw a cat, or suggest humane alternatives to cat owners.
She said, “We are happy with our policy.” We like to give people a choice and that option. It’s not Russia where you can’t do certain things. We don’t sell declaws. If someone calls wanting to know about declaws we are happy to tell them about the declaw that our doctor does.”
I said, you say that there are no negative consequences, no problems doing it, you say that you declaw cats as old as 18 yrs old and any age is fine you never say that there is anything wrong with declawing your cat.
Employee T, “The method that our doctor does it in, if you are going to have to have it done, her method is the only way that I would ever recommend having it done, better than tendonectomy.”
We told her that declawing is inhumane no matter how you perform it.
She said, It depends on what you idea of inhumane is. If your idea of humane is taking a cat that is tearing up your house or tearing up you and throwing them outside to whatever the elements are, yea. But if your idea of humane is to keep them inside where they can live happily and healthy and in harmony with the entire household then that’s the other side.”
As far as declawing being inhumane she said, “The benefits outweigh any possible problem and the pain. The benefits outweigh that.”
We told her that the majority of cats can have scratchers, soft paws, and use deterrents and can be trained to use scratchers and you guys could be educating the cat owners about this fact, told her that they declaw cats as young as 3 months old who don’t even have scratching issues, and that cats can be trained and you should be counseling the cat owners about these things.
Employee T said, “We shouldn’t have to do anything. People have access to the internet and they’ve got plenty of articles like yours to read to make those kind of decisions and they can weigh both sides against the other. We don’t sell declaws, we do it. We don’t advertise it, we have it available.”
We told her that when people ask her if there are any negative consequences, she says no and says it’s fine.
Employee T said, “From my personal experience, having a declaw done in the method that Dr Rigoni does it, there is not. Now the guillotine method, years ago I had a cat that was done the old fashioned way and I swore I would never do it again because it was such a mutilation. The doctor cut the paw pads and everything. Dr Rigoni’s declaw does not do anything near that.”
She was asked why Dr Rigoni declaws most of her cats.
Employee T said, “It depends on the cat. If they launch and use their back toenails too much or pokes her people, would you rather the cat stay in a cage its whole life? Or would you rather get rid of its toenails and run around so it couldn’t hurt anyone or itself. Don’t you know that if cats can’t be trusted out, they are going to be caged or thrown outside and killed? How humane is that? Is it humane to live in a little bitty cage your whole life or thrown outside and killed by just about anything? Is that humane?”
We told her the rest of the world doesn’t declaw cats.
Employee T said, “And that’s fine, that’s their culture. Over in Africa they mutilate woman so that they do not have sex. “
We asked her why Dr Rigoni declaws her dogs or other people’s dogs?
Employee T said, “She doesn’t have any declawed dogs. On a rare occasion, which to me it actually makes a lot more sense to declaw a dog than a cat.
She said, “Do you know anyone who can trim their own dog’s toenails?No. Their toenails get so long and you hear, click click click click . That’s like having a fat animal. That’s inhumane. Their toenails are so long because you can’t trim them. Try to trim a dog with black toenails without making them bleed.” She talked about having a toodle dog and how she loves to have her toenails done and how she stands there perfectly still and how she would never think of having her declawed. Then she goes on to say, “but if I had a big dog that I couldn’t trim its nails . I have seen peoples dogs with nails are so long that you know it’s going to messing with the way its walking. That’s inhumane. When you start trimming dogs toenails, then you can talk to me about what’s inhumane. When you have dogs with nails so long they can barely walk, it affects their gait, it affects their hip joints and their knee joints.”
We asked is there a reason Dr Rigoni breeds cats when she is on the board of directors at a shelter with a very high kill rate.
Employee T said, “your information isn’t true. They are including the number of animals that have to be put down for humane purposes which means they have been hit by a car or they have a broken back, those aren’t true numbers. If you look at the true adoptable cats and dogs that are put to sleep, the numbers are going to be a whole lot different. Those are animals who are put out of their misery before they die on their own.” She said that HHS is responsible for all of Harris County in the city of Houston and that’s a huge area with a large number of cats and dogs they are responsible for and that you have to take that into consideration and look at apples to apples.
When she brought up another question, “If there was a burning building and there was a cat in it and a baby, who would you save?” it was time to end the interview. She obviously was doing everything she could to deflect the real issue which was about declawing cats. Then she said that we are writing a sensational and fictional story. This story has all facts in it.
She agreed that Dr Rigoni should know whats going on at HHS as far as the declawing policy. She said that she wasn’t sure but said, “The way I think they might be thinking is, if they can get a kitty adopted and out of a shelter situation if it can be declawed and get it a good home then maybe that is something they think, If an animal were to stay in a shelter and keep it’s claws.”
She then gave a lecture about how cats instinctually use their claws to mark their territory and are putting their scent markers. She said, “it isn’t easy to transfer one (a cat) over to a scratching post. A lot of people don’t have that kind of patience or don’t want to take the effort or time to train their cats. There are homes out there who won’t have anything other than a declawed cat. Would you rather have a cat stay in a shelter or be in a cage or be outside and left to all the evil devices that are out there or be declawed and live in a cush cush mansion.”
We wanted to see how Cynthia A Rigoni’s veterinary clinic addresses declawing and asked these questions. Our researcher asked for the cost of a declaw and other questions about Dr Rigoni and declawing.
In a nutshell, here are some of the things that they were told by employees at Dr Cynthia Rigoni’s Houston veterinary practice. “Well there’s a right way and a wrong way to do a declaw. The way that has the bad rap is called the guillotine method. That’s where they use giant toenail clippers and cut the bone and if you cut too far back you get bone degeneration so the toe gets shorter and if you clip too far forward you get pieces of that end bone that can grow nail inside the cat’s foot after that. Then she went in to describe how Dr Rigoni declaws and called it the “dissection method” and said , “that’s where, you know how you can remove a chicken leg from a thigh, there’s no bone involved, just tendons and that’s it. They are under anesthesia, they have pain meds on board, and they heal a lot faster.” She said that the way Dr Rigoni does it, “the paws look totally natural.” She even said, “You can come by and take a look because some of our cats are declawed that way. They look completely normal.”
“We do 4 or 5 a week, your cat should be fine in 15 days, and they are back to normal quickly.”
When asked about declawing causing limping the office manager says, ““As far as limping is concerned, it’s usually an improper surgery or sympathy. Oh I hurt, therefore I’m going to limp and make you feel bad.”
“We have older people whose skin gets real thin and their doctors tell them to get rid of their cats because one little scratch from their claws will just make a big gash so we declaw their kitties so they can keep them. 18 yrs old is the oldest cat that she’s declawed and we’ve never had any problems.”
“She (Dr Rigoni) wouldn’t do it (declaws) if it caused long term health issues. Everyone has their own beliefs they consider that to be, she declaws almost all her cats. Do you want the front paws done or all four done?”
“We want them to be at least 3 lbs before we can declaw them. She knows what shes doing and she’s really really good at them and teaches other veterinarians. None of the vet schools are teaching it this way. The guillotine method is the old way and many haven’t learned the new way.”
Researcher told employee that they had read online that the Humane Society of the US says that declawing is bad for a cat. Employee proudly said, ” Dr Rigoni is on the board of Directors of the Humane Society and she does it.” (declawing)
“She’s done several thousands of them (declaws) over the years, I know that I’ve worked for her for 17 yrs and it’s usually gone very smoothly.“
Researcher asked the office manager, if cats need their claws for their health or was worried if their cat would limp from the declaws? “No, not at all. My cat was declawed and their health was never an issue. She (Dr Rigoni) does her own (cats), she’s done other peoples, she’s done an 18 yr old cat, it’s not that kind of thing. As far as limping is concerned, it’s usually an improper surgery or sympathy. Oh I hurt, therefore I’m going to limp and make you feel bad.”
Researcher said that it’s advised to use a vet who is skilled at the declaw. “Oh yes that would be useful, your friend is absolutely right. Let’s see here, I don’t normally do this, let’s go back 16 yrs to 2000, I’m literally going to poll my computer. Let’s go back to Jan 1st 2000, and we are going to pull just a front declaw. It may or may not come the quite the way I want to only because I had different numbers years ago. If this helps you at all, I have about 20 (declaws) per page and I’ve got 83 pages. (BIG LAUGH from office manager) So let’s see, 2 times 80 is 160, just the past couple years. Let’s see what she has done this year. “She has done at least 60 declaws so far this year. And that’s just the front declaw, not front and back, not declaws for us in house and other things, that’s just a front declaw.”
Asked office manager if Dr Rigoni declaws cats for HHS? “No no, she wasn’t doing declaws but she will. What she was doing was spays and neuters because they can’t get a surgeon over there period. That’s the problem they have.”
Office manager said, “She also does canine by the way, which very few people do. She taught herself, it’s a totally different method. They (dogs) can ruin walls by scratching and thing, drives her nuts. She taught herself how to do it. It’s a different technique. They don’t teach that in vet school. It’s not something we normally show.”
August 2106- Employee 1 T- Researcher asked if there is anything else that they should do with the spay surgery. Employee said, “At 6 months of age, if you wanted to have the cat declawed, you could do that, at the same time. If it’s the front only it’s $305.” Or you could get them declawed on all four paws and she says, “it’s just $100 more for all four paws $405.”
Researcher said that they had read things online that said declawing is inhumane and is that true. The nice employee said, “Well there’s a right way and a wrong way to do a declaw. The way that has the bad rap is called the guillotine method. That’s where they use giant toenail clippers and cut the bone and if you cut too far back you get bone degeneration so the toe gets shorter and if you clip too far forward you get pieces of that end bone that can grow nail inside the cat’s foot after that. Then she went in to describe how Dr Rigoni declaws and called it the “dissection method” and said , “that’s where, you know how you can remove a chicken leg from a thigh, there’s no bone involved, just tendons and that’s it. They are under anesthesia, they have pain meds on board, and they heal a lot faster.” She said that the way Dr Rigoni does it, “the paws look totally natural.” She even said, “You can come by and take a look because some of our cats are declawed that way. They look completely normal.”
They say, “When there’s bone involved or when you are crushing or cutting the bone, it’s much more painful and it lasts a lot longer. When there’s no bone involved, it heals a whole lot faster since you are talking about tendons and skin. ”
They say that Dr Rigoni is the only one that does their declaws. After the researcher asked if there’s any chance of botching the declaw and is concerned, the employees says not to worry and “we do 4 or 5 a week, your cat should be fine in 15 days, and they are back to normal quickly.”
They asked if cats will have any negative consequences and they say, “Not with the way our doctor does a declaw, she’s done a lot of them for 30 yrs. I don’t even recall the last time a cat came in with a problem. We see cats that come in from other vets that have problems that she has to go back and fix and remove the fragments of bone.” They reassure you that she just, “removes the little tip right there at the first joint.”
They were asked if it ok for an older cat to be declawed they say, “we have older people whose skin gets real thin and their doctors tell them to get rid of their cats because one little scratch from their claws will just make a big gash so we declaw their kitties so they can keep them. 18 yrs old is the oldest cat that she’s declawed and we’ve never had any problems.”
August 2016 – Employee 2- J- Has known Dr Rigoni since 1979.
Researcher called and asked if it’s ok to get a 6 yr old, 20 lb cat declawed and if Dr Rigoni is skilled at it. “Yes mam, she’s very good, one of the best. She uses dissection method so that mean there’s no damage to the paw or paw pad.”
Researcher asked the employee if it was inhumane to declaw a cat that old or that heavy. Employee said, “older people have older cats and they want to keep them and that the only way they can. It’s not inhumane the way she does it. We do a lot of them. We did 3 this morning and she’s been doing them for 30 years. It takes 7-10 days to heal, no stitches, she takes the nail off at the joint, she uses compression bandages, and we keep them overnight and then send them home with special litter. They said that they do a lot of older cats and when people get older their skin gets thin and the only way they can keep their cat, “the love of their life, is to have it declawed.”
Asked if the cat will be ok. “Oh yes, you won’t be able to tell if she’s declawed unless you pick her up and look between the toes. “
Researcher said they read some bad things about declawing on the internet and employee said, “Oh yea, Dr Google lies sometimes and rearranges the truth.” We even have had a client bring her cats from California to Dr Rigoni to declaw them. She has done nothing but cats for over 30 yrs.”
Researcher said they read some bad things about declawing on the internet and employee said, “Oh yea, Dr Google lies sometimes and rearranges the truth.”
Told employee that they had read online that the Humane Society of the US says that declawing is bad for a cat. Employee proudly said, ” Dr Rigoni is on the board of Directors of the Humane Society and she does it.” (declawing)
August 2016- Employee 3-T- Researcher asked if they could talk to Dr Rigoni to see if it was humane and ok to declaw their cats.
Employee said, “a phone consultation is $50.”
First time cat owner asked if they could just ask some questions before she does the declaw.
The employee said, “Dr Rigoni does the surgery the dissection method. The guillotine method is the way that is inhumane and causes a lot of issues with bone fragments left behind that grows a nail or bone regeneration that cause the finger to get shorter.”
Employee said, “That Is that what Dr Rigoni would say. She pays me to handle these kind of calls that come in and give the advice you need.”
Researcher asked if declawing bad for the cat’s health and well being.
“No, she wouldn’t do it if it caused long term health issues , no she wouldn’t do it. Everyone has their own beliefs they consider that to be, she declaws almost all her cats. Do you want the front paws done or all four done?”
What do you recommend and what are the prices the researcher asked? Employee said, “$305 and $405. Usually people do the back feet when they have a very destructive cat or they have a health issue and they can’t have the cat scratch them for any reason at all. So just the front then. Yes mam, that’s what most people do, it keeps the destruction and all that stuff down to a minimal.”
Employee asked, “Are they kittens or adults? We want them to be at least 3 lbs before we can declaw them. She knows what shes doing and she’s really really good at them and teaches other veterinarians. None of the vet schools are teaching it this way. The guillotine method is the old way and many haven’t learned the new way.”
August 2016- Employee 4- E- Office manager- Researcher asked for a price for a declaw and if the cat would be ok afterwards.
Office manager said, “As far as we know yes, she’s done several thousands of them over the years, I know that I’ve worked for her for 17 yrs and it’s usually gone very smoothly.”
Asked if the cat would be limping after the declaw. “Shouldn’t be. We do have a recheck policy, 7 to 10 days after the surgery, we do want to see your kitty back. It’s a free recheck just to make sure everything is going alright.”
Researcher asked if it’s ok to declaw a 6 year old cat and the manager said, “That’s fine.”
Researcher asked if it’s ok to declaw a cat that weights 20 lbs and the manager said, “It’s not a matter of weight, it’s a matter of why is that weight, if it’s normal for his body or if he’s overweight. Which means that under anesthesia, anything can happen.”
Researcher said that there are horror stories about how declawing can ruin a cat’s life and the manager said, “Of course, the horror stories are based on the guillotine method. They use a tool called a Rescoe trimmer, like a gripper or plyer, they would grab on to the paw , extend the claw, and then they would stick it under the guillotine, and then bring the guillotine down. Sometimes they would get part of a claw and sometimes they would get part of the pad.”
“Dr Rigoni doesn’t do this, she does the dissection method. She goes into the nail bed and removes the nail totally. It’s the more modern version, it’s done with a surgical blade, we do a cold laser therapy that helps to speed up the healing.”
Researcher asked if cats need their claws for their health. Manager said, “No, not at all. My cat was declawed and their health was never an issue. She’s (Rigoni) does her own, she’s done other peoples, she’s done an 18 yr old cat, it’s not that kind of thing.”
“As far as limping is concerned, it’s usually an improper surgery or sympathy. Oh I hurt, therefore I’m going to limp and make you feel bad.”
“What I did 15-20 days after surgery, I made this pipe cleaner circle and tied it on to a cord on to a long stick and dragged it around and I made my cat grab it, and she learned how grab it with her paws and use her paws and move the toes differently , and she would grab it and run with it and roll to take it down. So I made a game out of it so she didn’t think that she didn’t have the claws. She didn’t even think about the fact that she didn’t have nails.”
Researcher asked if Rigoni is skilled and does around one declaw a month. Manager said, “Oh she’s done more than one a month hun. She has literally done thousands. “
Researcher asked if “Oh yes that would be useful, your friend is absolutely right. Let’s see here, I don’t normally do this, let’s go back 16 yrs to 2000, I’m literally going to poll my computer. Let’s go back to Jan 1st 2000, and we are going to pull just a front declaw.”
Office manager says, “If this helps you at all, I have about 20 (declaws) per page and I’ve got 83 pages. (BIG LAUGH from manager) So let’s see, 2 times 80 is 160, just the past couple years. Let’s see what she has done this year. She has done at least 60 declaws so far this year. And that’s just the front declaw, not front and back, not declaws for us in house and other things.”
This office manager was proud to say, “She also does canine by the way, which very few people do. She taught herself, it’s a totally different method. They (dogs) can ruin walls by scratching and thing, drives her nuts. She taught herself how to do it. It’s a different technique. They don’t teach that in vet school. It’s not something we normally show.”
Does she do declaws at HHS? “No no, she wasn’t doing declaws but she will. What she was doing was spays and neuters because they can’t get a surgeon over there period.”
First time cat owner said that HSUS says declawing is inhumane. Office manager, “That’s US vs Houston. She’s not doing declaws necessarily over there but they (HHS) will do them. She’s doing spays and neuters and what I was talking about is the fact that she is an extremely experienced surgeon. During the Fix Felix she does over 380 (neuters) in an 8 hr period, which is historic. She brings her own staff.”
Asked if Dr Rigoni is very skilled at both cat and dog declawing. Manager said, “Uh huh. She’s done her own dogs. She doesn’t normally offer this up to anybody else because we don’t do dogs and there’s a purposeful reason why we don’t dogs here in the office, we don’t have the room. If you do dogs, you have to do them all sizes all shapes all forms.”
Researcher asked if they do the dog declaws at her home. Manager said, “We normally don’t, she does her own, but If someone needs one, she will offer to do it on occasion but we don’t do them on a regular basis because we don’t have the room for dogs. It’s a totally different form of surgery. You don’t perform a declaw on a dog the same way you do on a cat. Dogs nails just grow, cats nails grow and retract and come back out again. Nails retract so what you are dealing with is taking the nail out in behind a tendon.”
Researcher asked if declawing is ok for cats and dogs because they read things about it being inhumane? Manager said, “heck yea. She’s (Dr Rigoni) is a breeder, she’s been doing her own cats and dogs for years, not a problem. You will get horror stories on everything and all kinds of funny stuff going on the internet. If you weren’t familiar with the technique and hadn’t sat here for years watching it happen, you would be kind of nervous too. “
Office manager says she does drawings for clients who want declaws. “I draw the nail, I show them what the tendons look like and make a little schematic for them on a little post it not and I say take them home. I’ve actually watched her do several hundred, I don’t even bother anymore, I know what it looks like, she’ll be talking to you and yacking as she’s cutting away.”
If my dog is scratching my floors and I wanted that done too would she? “You would have to shop around. There are a few vets that know how to do that. If that occurred and you still wanted that done you would need to ask her about it and she could tell you. She has a cut off on when she wants to do that with a dog. You would have ask her and we would prepare in advance for that if she decided to do that for you, we would have to meet you, the dog, that type of thing, and she doesn’t do that lightly.”
From the investigation of this story, I realized that there are thousands of pro-declaw veterinarians in North America who are deceiving the public about what declawing is and telling their clients that it isn’t harmful or bad for the health and well being of a cat.
The nice folks with the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners helped me with this story and said that veterinarians must be held to the honesty and integrity rule. Anyone can file a complaint if they find out about a veterinarian in Texas who is lying about declawing or who is deceiving the public about declawing.
Here is the link to the complaint form https://www.veterinary.texas.gov/Complaints.php
They were kind enough to also send me these helpful links for this story and this information that would pertain to how this practice was addressing declawing and the misrepresentation of the declawing procedure.