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Review: 'The Paw Project' delivers biting critique of declawing cats

Here's the life cycle of a declawed cat, according to "The Paw Project": As a kitten, its toes — the top third of the fingers on a human — are amputated. Shorn of its defenses, that cat has a 1-in-3 chance of developing a behavioral issue, like biting or urinating outside its litter box (because stepping on gravel becomes painful). Because of such problems, that cat is more likely to be given up to a shelter and, finally, euthanized.

As an exotic-animal veterinarian, director Jennifer Conrad witnessed mountain lions walking on their wrists or forearms after declawing made normal movement agonizing. Conrad then launched a largely successful multi-city campaign across California to ban declawing among house cats, a practice already illegal in 30 nations.

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A documentary about pet surgery may seem narrow in appeal, limited further by its one-sided viewpoint and no-budget look. But "The Paw Project" is robustly persuasive, with Conrad compellingly framing her crusade as a battle between a right-thinking vet and a deep-pocketed industry group that purportedly represents her.

To its credit, "The Paw Project" doesn't feel remotely self-aggrandizing, but conscientious and scientific. When Conrad compares the declawing of kittens to "removing the teeth on a puppy because he's chewing slippers," it's a reminder that, even in a visual medium like film, the strongest images are the ones we can't see.

"The Paw Project." No MPAA rating. Running time: 60 minutes. At Pasadena Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.

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