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What's good for the goose is good for the Gamble.

Last week, a truck pulled away from the Procter & Gamble factory in Kansas City, Kan., carrying a single substance that, to some of the world's most vulnerable creatures, held the promise of life itself. On board were 1,000 bottles of Dawn, the dishwashing soap that is such a fixture in American kitchens it holds a commanding market share of about 36 per cent.

Dawn is not just the leading brand of dish soap; ever since the Exxon-Valdez spill in 1989, it has also been the elixir favoured by marine biologists to remove oil from water birds trapped in an environmental disaster like the one spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

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"I always feel like I'm doing a Dawn commercial," says Jay Holcomb in a video posted on the website of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, in which he explains the centre's rationale behind its choice. As the executive director of the California-based research centre, Mr. Holcomb is currently in the Gulf with members of his organization to help rehabilitate wildlife pulled from the water.

"It removed oil pretty quickly, it was harmless to the birds - they could swallow it, they could get a little bit in their eyes and as long as it was flushed out they were okay. It was readily available anywhere … and it was safe to people." After the soap is rinsed away, the birds are able to restore their own natural waterproofing capabilities.

The package-goods giant is happy to share the spotlight with the birds. Last fall, it began airing a 30-second television commercial showing a variety of cute marine denizens being cleansed of black sludge, as on-screen text explained that thousands caught in oil spills had been rescued using Dawn. The spot kicked off a campaign, still running, that pledges donations if consumers visit a particular website after buying the soap.

Procter & Gamble began airing the ad again last month - timed, it says, to coincide with Earth Day. But the company recognizes the Gulf spill as a prime opportunity to strengthen its bond with consumers. On Sunday afternoon, it opened a Twitter feed for Dawn, where it is advising people on volunteer opportunities, and providing information on the finer points of wildlife rescue. It is also directing people to its recently refreshed Facebook page where more than 140,000 fans have signed on as so-called Everyday Wildlife Champions.

Since it began working with the International Bird Rescue Research Center in 1989, P&G has donated 46,000 bottles of Dawn. To date, though, most of the Dawn shipped to the Gulf sits unused in emergency cleaning centres in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, waiting for the oiled birds to arrive. Bad weather has prevented the research centre and Tri-State Bird Rescue from venturing onto the water. Only two birds have been rescued so far. Yesterdaytues, Paul Kelway, the International Bird Rescue Research Center's program manager, said in an interview: "The hope is we're out in the next day or two."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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