Should you have The Sex Talk with your pets?

A new set of ads produced by the Best Friends Animal Society is educating the public on when to spay and neuter their pets – by comparing puppies and kittens to human teenagers.

Sponsored by the BFAS and featuring voice-over work by actors Linda Hunt ("NCIS: LA") and Eric Stonestreet ("Modern Family"), the public-service announcements hope to grab attention for the new campaign, "Prevent more. Fix at month four." One of the ads, narrated by Stonestreet, is a fairly straightforward cute-fest in which puppies and kittens frolic around animated words while Stonestreet explains the perils of waiting too long to fix a young dog or cat.

But the attention-grabber is the ad titled "Afternoon Stroll." A dad and his (human) daughter go for a walk in their suburban neighborhood while teen boys rush up to the windows and fences nearby in a dog-like fashion, eagerly greeting the girl and "panting" things like, "Hey! Hi! Live around here? You're pretty. Where you guys going?" The dad looks down fondly at his daughter and muses that it's about time to get her fixed – and the camera cuts down to a fluffy Lab puppy. Then Hunt intones that your dog will get noticed "sooner than you think."

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It's an unusual (and a liiiiittle bit shocking) way to broadcast key information about when to fix pets – but that in turn could prevent the "uh oh" and "oops" litters often born to teenage pets, whose owners may not have thought they were old enough to get pregnant. These litters can translate to hundreds of thousands of unplanned babies, who may then wind up in the shelter system, and/or getting put down.

The BFAS knows firsthand about pet overpopulation issues; it's the country's biggest sanctuary for homeless animals of all species. Amber Ayers, their senior marketing and creative manager, talked to about the challenges of getting these important facts and numbers out there in a way "that didn't make people feel guilty or sad." (We immediately thought of those notorious Sarah McLachlan ASPCA ads, well-meaning spots that are so upsetting to watch, we usually end up diving for the remote whenever one of them comes on.) How'd they settle on "Fix At Four"? "When we looked at the research, most people planned on spaying or neutering their pets," Ayers said, "but there was a lot of confusion about when to do so and this leads to the 'oops' litter."

The non-profit BFAS, based in Utah, is aiming to turn the series into a "cultural movement" – one begun, perhaps, by Bob Barker's daily exhortations to "Price Is Right" viewers to spay and neuter their pets. By "shifting the mindset of our country," Ayers said, we'll see more pets fixed at four months old, and fewer pets entering (and not leaving) American shelters.

We had our cats fixed at around six months old; we had no idea we could have been waiting too long, so the campaign has already taught us something. But we'd also taken advantage of low-cost neutering services at our local SPCA – so we hope local shelters and humane societies (and vets, of course) are on board with the four-month figure. As always, ask your veterinarian if and when your puppy or kitten is ready for the procedures.

Did you know you should fix pets at four months? How old were your pets? Do you think the ads are witty and/or attention-getting enough to raise awareness? Talk to us in the comments.

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Elsewhere on Shine Pets:
Bob Barker pitches in for homeless chimps
"Enviropigs" banned from pet-hood in Ontario
Could pet telepathy work?