Even worldly columnists such as myself were blushing from head to toe after discovering a new website promoting the latest thing in pet protection -- condoms for your dogs and cats.
The first thing you see when you visit petcondoms.org is an ad featuring a large white dog staring longingly into space, alongside a gold foil-encased "Animal Instincts" pet condom.
"Pregnancy protection for dogs and cats!" the ad barks in big, bold letters. "Put it on before they get it on." Under that, you'll find a series of even friskier clickable links, including one for what appears to be a video displaying a "wrapped" banana and this message: "How to put on a pet condom -- what every owner needs to know." Beside a photo of two adorable puppies are the words: "Is Sparky a sex addict? How to spot the signs."
Obscene? Absurd? A sign of the looming apocalypse? Well, it might be if it weren't for the not terribly surprising fact the entire website is a hoax.
Click on any of the cheeky ads or links on petcondoms.org and up pops the following message: "C'mon, there's only one real fix. Spay or neuter your pet!"
Click on the words "learn more" and you're whisked to the San Francisco SPCA's website, where you can read about spay and neuter surgeries and make an appointment to have your best friend fixed.
It's all part of an off-the-wall ad campaign launched by San Francisco's animal protection organization, an attempt to use a ridiculous idea to shine a spotlight on the serious problem of an exploding population of unwanted pets.
The idea of using fictional pet condoms to encourage owners to get their animals spayed and neutered is creating a huge buzz in cyberspace, and generating lots of laughs and respect among Manitoba's animal rights advocates.
"They're taking a serious issue and putting their own funny twist on it," Aileen White, the director of communications and public affairs for the Winnipeg Humane Society, says with a chuckle. "It's just so clever.
"It's very tough coming up with new ways to talk about a subject that's dry but incredibly important. How do you talk about cat overpopulation in a new way? Or spaying and neutering in a new way? They just hit the nail on the head. I've never seen anything like it."
White said spaying and neutering stray animals, mainly cats, is one of the primary activities of the humane society in Winnipeg. In a typical year, the society's shelter will take in between 8,500 and 9,000 animals. Of these, about 5,400 are cats, the vast majority of which are strays.
"Spaying and neutering is key to solving cat overpopulation," White said. "In Winnipeg, it's mostly a stray cat issue; it's not a stray dog issue. The main issue in our own back yard is cat overpopulation."
For many years, the society has not needed to euthanize dogs for space reasons, but there are times when it has no choice but to euthanize cats because there's no more room in the shelter, she said.
"We do between 5,000 and 6,000 spay and neuter surgeries a year," she noted. "We do 35 to 40 spay and neuters each day. There are dogs mixed in there, but it's mostly cats. Cats by and large are strays and we don't get to reunite them with an owner. I think cats are often seen as disposable."
The society runs a spay and neuter assistance program (SNAP) that provides low-cost surgeries to low-income pet owners who may not be able to afford standard veterinary fees.
Under the program, the cost of the operation would range from $25 to about $50, whereas standard vet fees would be more in the range of $100 to $200, depending on the type of pet and its gender.
(Pet owners can check whether they qualify for the program by calling the society at 204-888-SNAP or visiting www.winnipeghumanesociety.ca.)
Outside Winnipeg, stray dogs pose a larger problem and the importance of spaying and neutering is, if anything, even more important.
"That's the reason we have to have all the rescues and shelters -- people don't spay and neuter their pets," said Sherry Martin, one of the main volunteers for the Swan Valley Animal Protection League.
"It's the biggest reason for strays, because people end up with unwanted puppies and kittens and, if they can't get rid of them, they dump them," said Martin, whose group runs a shelter in a converted farm on the outskirts of Swan River, about 500 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
"Most of the animals we take in are strays, animals that are dumped. This time of year is bad. We get a lot of calls about puppies and kittens that have been dumped in ditches or farms. Around 99 per cent of the animals we take in are not fixed."
A huge fan of the San Francisco SPCA's bogus pet condoms campaign -- "It's funny and it gets people to think about the problem" -- Martin said the cost of the surgeries takes a huge bite out of their volunteer-run rescue's budget.
"That's our biggest expense," she said. "All of the adult dogs we adopt out are fixed. As soon as we are able to fix them, we fix them."
The problem is especially acute on northern First Nations, where a lack of vet services means it's not unusual for packs of stray dogs to wreak havoc, Martin notes. Her message is simple: "We want to put ourselves out of business, so people need to spay and neuter their pets."
On the other hand, you can always sit down with Frisky and explain the birds and the bees. You might want to teach him to sit first.