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Humane Society's 'Grab a pussy...cat' campaign goes awry

Dalson Chen, Windsor Star

The Windsor/Essex County Humane Society's controversial cat adoption advertisement that made reference to Donald Trump's controversial "pussy" comment. After multiple complaints, the advertisement was deleted - less than three hours after it was posted on Oct. 19, 2016. (Courtesy of the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society / Windsor Star)

The Windsor/Essex County Humane Society's controversial cat adoption advertisement that made reference to Donald Trump's controversial "pussy" comment. After multiple complaints, the advertisement was deleted - less than three hours after it was posted on Oct. 19, 2016. (Courtesy of the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society / Windsor Star)

WINDSOR,  Ont. - If the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society wanted to court Donald Trump levels of controversy with its latest cat adoption ad, they surely got it on Wednesday morning.

The organization received multiple complaints — and hundreds of social media shares — because of an advertisement that made explicit reference to Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” comment.

“You don’t have to be a star to grab a pussy… cat,” the ad joked, informing the public that all shelter cats over six months old can be adopted for $50 from Oct. 19 to 23.

Reaction was swift. “Tasteless” and “vulgar” were common responses. Some members of the public decried the ad as perpetuating “rape culture.” Others found it humorous — no different than a joke one would hear from a late night talk show host.

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky was not amused, stating she was “profoundly, deeply disappointed and disturbed” by the ad.

Gretzky showed the ad to her fellow MPPs Percy Hatfield and Taras Natyshak, and personally contacted the Humane Society to complain.

“We must ensure that demeaning behavior towards women is not perpetuated,” Gretzky wrote in a follow-up tweet. “Regardless of intent, it is never acceptable.”

Around 12:40 p.m., less than three hours since the ad was posted, the Humane Society removed it from all its social media platforms.

The Humane Society’s executive director, Melanie Coulter, apologized for the ad, and said the organization never intended to make light of sexual assault.

“Our intent was to poke fun at the U.S. election,” Coulter said. “To come up with an idea that people would find funny and share, and hopefully get cats into good homes.”

Coulter said the ad was conceived and created by female Humane Society staff members, and vetted by a number of people.

The organization wanted to encourage cat adoption because the shelter is full: They received 145 felines last week alone.

“We were thinking, ‘Okay, we need to do an adoption program … What can we do that will get people talking and people will share?'” Coulter explained. “We thought, ‘Everybody’s talking about the U.S. election.'”

Asked if she’s worried about the controversy affecting the Humane Society’s reputation, Coulter said she hopes no one will hold this against the organization.

“Our intent with our promotions is never to offend anybody … I hope that people would understand that our focus was on trying to get cats adopted.”

Earlier this week, notoriously scandalous animal rights group PETA received backlash for making the same joke in a cat adoption campaign. But Coulter said the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society wasn’t inspired by the PETA ad.

“We hadn’t seen that one,” Coulter said.


PETA (HO)

Coulter pointed out that the Humane Society has used humour — or at least, attempted humour — in other advertisements. For example, an image of a shelter cat named Benson who’s up for adoption was Photoshopped to make reference to the “creepy clown” phenomenon.

“I’m sorry,” Coulter said. “I’m just going to apologize to everyone today.”