It's a beautiful June afternoon and I'm sitting in Aileen White's office at the Winnipeg Humane Society, staring out the picture window and fighting a desire to bask in the sun's rays by rolling around on the carpet on my back like a dog.
Aileen, the society's high-energy communications director, wants to talk to me about a "sensitive issue," but for some reason I'm having a difficult time getting focused.
"I have a great idea," Aileen is telling me as I squint out the window at a dog with a fluffy tail.
"Uh huh," I grunt in a journalistic manner.
"I think you should promote spaying and neutering," Aileen blurts.
"WHAT?" I fire back. (As a professional journalist, I get paid to ask the tough questions.)
"Spaying and neutering," Aileen presses on. "That's when..."
"Um, I know what it is," I scold, cutting her off. "I'm just not sure what you want me..."
Aileen plows on. "You could be sort of the unofficial spokesman for people getting their pets spayed and neutered."
"Like Bob Barker?" I wonder. (For you young people out there, Bob Barker was a TV game-show host who famously ended each show by urging viewers to get their pets fixed.)
"Ha ha ha!" Aileen squeals. "That would be FANTASTIC!"
I scrunch my face. "So, the idea is that when people think of me, they should..."
"They should want to run out and get their cats and dogs fixed!" Aileen cuts in. "That would be SUPER DANDY!"
I briefly ponder how "super dandy" life would be as the poster boy for pet birth control. "Why me?" I ask.
"Because you are such a well-known animal lover," Aileen coos. "Everyone knows you write about your dogs."
Averting my eyes, I make a confession. "My basset hound, Cooper, still has all his, um, original equipment," I whisper.
Aileen takes this in stride. "You're just as manly without your bits," she informs me.
"That's easy for you to say," I counter under my breath.
At this point, I start squirming in my chair. "I'm just a little uncomfortable," I tell Aileen.
She smiles reassuringly. "Because you're a humour columnist?" she asks.
"Because I'm a guy," I snort.
For the record, whereas women are comfortable openly discussing surgical procedures involving medically sensitive areas, guys like me tend to clam up, sweat profusely and curl our bodies up in a protective manner like giant boiled shrimp.
"The problem," I tell Aileen, "is that guys have a great deal of empathy."
This draws a blank look, so I offer a case in point.
"For example," I say, helpfully, "If a guy is watching a hockey game and a player gets walloped by a puck in the 'lower body region,' that guy feels a lot of empathy."
Aileen considers my logic. "Women feel empathy," she insists, "but you've got to get over it. Spaying and neutering is very important. We do over 600 spay and neuter surgeries a year, about 30 every day."
I feel a brief pang of guilt. "So, exactly what does it do?" I ask.
"It stops them from having babies," Aileen replies in the tone you'd use if you were speaking to a shrub.
"No, I mean in the big picture," I explain.
"It reduces the number of homeless pets, the number of unwanted pets, the number of pets in shelters. We get about 9,000 animals a year. If people spayed or neutered their pets, a lot of that problem would be reduced.
"Just two pets can turn into 80 million in only 10 years if not properly spayed or neutered to help control pet populations."
Trying to wrap my head around 80 million, I given in and ask Aileen exactly what she wants me to do.
"You could talk about Paws in Motion!" she declares, referring to the society's annual pet walk-a-thon being held Sunday, June 26, in Assiniboine Park.
"Because?" I demand. (Like I said, I don't pull punches.)
"It's our biggest fundraiser," Aileen says. "Our goal is to make $300,000 this year, and all of the funds raised will go to spay and neuter. It takes a lot of money. It's a big part of what we do. We don't want dogs and cats running around on the streets."
Suddenly, she has a brainstorm. "Would you like to watch a surgery? We can go in right now!"
It's a tempting offer, but as I uncurl from the shrimp position, I politely decline: "I think I'm good for now."
With that, I walk away with all the manly dignity I can muster. Which isn't easy when your legs are clenched together.
Help paws pet population
PAWS in Motion, the humane society's largest fundraiser of the year, is set for Sunday, June 26, in Assiniboine Park.
About 1,200 walkers and 800 dogs turn out for the annual pet walk-a-thon. You can walk alone, with a team, or just show up to watch. This year's goal is $300,000, with all the cash going to support spay and neuter programs. The shelter provides more than 6,000 spay and neuter surgeries each year.
You can find more information, register or make a donation online at www.winnipeghumanesociety.ca