That lawsuit fails, but CVMA lobbies successfully for a state law that would effectively prohibit other California municipalities from enacting similar bans. Given a narrow window of time during which antideclawing ordinances could be grandfathered in before the "ban on bans" takes effect, Conrad embarks on a blitz of several other city councils, trying to get them to follow West Hollywood's lead before it's too late. Suffice it to say that the score sheet at the end of the battle suggests that rational argument and appeals to compassion can still carry the day — at least some of the time.

Even in one battleground that Conrad lost, her home town of Malibu, a screening of the documentary helped turn defeat into victory. Within 24 hours of the screening, she says, the one vet in Malibu known for declawing announced that he would no longer perform the surgery: "After the screening, something like 50 of his patients called for their records, wanting to transfer them to a vet who won't declaw. He got the message loud and clear."

Lavizzo, Hofve and the other local activists hope the Colorado screening will get people similarly steamed. They're talking to lawmakers, seeking sponsors for legislation that could be introduced next year, and hoping that the state vet association stays out of the fray. (Ralph Johnson, executive director of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, says that his group has adopted no position on declawing at present, but the issue is "receiving active discussion.") Colorado is known as a place where people dote on their pets — or animal companions, if you prefer — and they expect to be able to rally considerable public support. But will it be enough to compel lawmakers to ban what many veterinarians still consider a simple and expedient surgery?

Dr. Jennifer Conrad explains the difficulty of reconstructive surgery in a scene from The Paw Project.
Photo courtesy of THE PAW PROJECT MOVIE
Dr. Jennifer Conrad explains the difficulty of reconstructive surgery in a scene from The Paw Project.

"On a personal level, I find this procedure cruel," says former Denver prosecutor Diane Balkin, now a contract attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund's criminal-justice program. "But the real question is how far the legislature can go in dictating what a professional can and can't do."

After the completion of her documentary, Conrad was involved in getting a bill through the California legislature that prohibits landlords from requiring that renters' cats be declawed or that dogs be debarked as a condition of occupancy. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law last fall, and the measure was predictably hailed as one of those wacky California laws that puts the rights of dumb animals before those of people.

Colorado has an opportunity to be even wackier. Lavizzo doesn't know if the bill to ban declawing will come next year or some time later, but he's in for the long haul. In one scene in The Paw Project, he quotes Leonardo da Vinci — "The smallest feline is a masterpiece" — and grimaces as he reflects on how he and his colleagues have savaged that masterpiece, altered it with a cruel yet routine surgery, performed not out of medical necessity, but for the sake of profit and convenience.

For Lavizzo, there's no question of turning back. It's time to step on some toes.

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