Move over, Morris. Long live "Earl the Dead Cat."

"He's kinda cute," says Barry Gottlieb, creator of the stuffed animal that has humane societies steaming and Advertising Age asking, "Is a dead cat too sick to be advertised?"

It all started when Gottlieb, a Richmond musician and president of Mad Dog Productions, came up with the ultimate maintenance-free pet: a stuffed dead cat.

"I'm single," explains Gottlieb. "I don't have the time to take care of a pet." Earl was born. "He's made of dark gray fur, but he's understuffed so he's kind of flat. Since he's dead, he doesn't shed or go into heat."

No kitty litter. No vet bills. No chow chow chow.

"Needless to say, we've been snowed under," says Gottlieb, who claims to have sold 4,300 stuffed dead cats for $15.95 after placing advertisements in The New York Times Magazine, USA Today, Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Chronicle. "The response was twice what we expected," Gottlieb says.

Live cat lovers, take note: We're talking about an imitation dead cat here. No actual felines, finicky or otherwise, need apply.

Still, Mad Dog Productions may have a hard time marketing Earl in the future. The New York Times ran the ad once, and Robert Smith, manager of advertising acceptability, says it was a decision the paper now "regrets." Because of adverse reaction, Smith says, "we decided it should not run again."

USA Today ran the ad once and refused to run it again. The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all have nixed the dead cat.

In addition, several branches of the Humane Society have written to Gottlieb, saying Earl wins the bad taste toy award of the year.

"I don't think it's sick," says the 35-year-old Gottlieb, who is also responsible for the Croc O'Shirt (a Lacoste-style shirt featuring a dead alligator), another shirt featuring a polo player being dragged by a horse and Silent Vigil foam rubber wind chimes.

"I'm not a cat hater. I just don't have much use for them," says Gottlieb, adding that the producer of the television hit series "Miami Vice" purchased six of the stuffed dead cats, which come with individual death certificates. "They seem to be making a hit with them."

Gottlieb says he has no plans to market a stuffed dead dog.

"I think one dead pet is enough."