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Cat declawing: The Paw Project screening kicks off campaign to ban surgery

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Our September 12 cover story, "The Cruelest Cut," examined the growing controversy over a pet surgery that's common in the U.S. but banned in many other countries -- the declawing of cats. Some veterinarians and anti-cruelty activists would like to see the procedure, which involves removing a section of toe bone as well as the nail, outlawed in Colorado, too. Their campaign gets underway in earnest on September 25, with a special screening of the documentary The Paw Project at the Denver Film Society's Sie FilmCenter.

A decade in the making, The Paw Project focuses on the journey of Jennifer Conrad, an exotic animal vet who started repairing the paws of badly crippled former circus lions and tigers that had been declawed to make them easier to handle, then came to question why American pet owners do the same thing to millions of house cats. Veterinarians often justify the surgery by saying they're saving a cat that would otherwise be abandoned or euthanized because it's scratching the furniture. Conrad and many of the declawing opponents featured in her film contend that declawing is not only a painful and unnecessary surgery but can lead to worse behavior problems, such as biting and refusing to use a litter box, that result in cats being given up anyway.

Vets don't always disclose that the "simple" procedure they're performing on your kitty involves a ten-toe amputation, and Conrad encountered stiff opposition from the state veterinary association when she tried to get declawing banned in several California cities. Her emotional and disturbing film raises questions well beyond the immediate issue. We alter our domesticated beasts in all sorts of ways in the name of convenience, from spaying and neutering to docking tails and breeding designer dogs -- but at what point does a cat stop being a cat? And what is (or should be) the veterinary establishment's role in all this?

The Paw Project screens at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 25, two days before its New York premiere and national release. Conrad, the director and star, will be on hand for a discussion of declawing after the screening, along with local veterinarians Aubrey Lavizzo and Jean Hofve, who also appear in the film and are leading the local campaign to ban the practice. For more information about the screening and to buy tickets, call 720-381-0813. For more information about the Paw Project and its mission, check out its website and the film trailer below.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Video: Jennifer Conrad's declawing documentary has cat docs howling."

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