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A DOG THAT DISLIKES PEOPLE ISN'T FIT FOR THERAPY WORK

Dear Matthew: I've heard some reports in the news about programs that bring dogs to children's hospitals for patients to bond with. I have a 3-year-old dog that I'd like to get involved in a program like this. The problem is, my dog's shy and doesn't really like people. Can he still be turned into a therapy dog?

- Dog Owner Who Wantsto Make a Difference

Dear Dog Owner: While it's great to hear that you're willing to offer your time to help sick children, your dog doesn't appear to be particularly suited for therapy-dog work.

The top factors to consider when determining whether your dog would make a therapy dog are its temperament and stability. These dogs have to be the most loving, affectionate, easy-going animals and not afraid of anything - whether children, adults, loud noises, etc. The last thing you want is to go to an orphanage or a hospital and have your dog growl at the kids.

So, as you can see, these dogs have to meet very strict criteria. It's a wonderful thought, but again, I don't think you have the right dog for the job. Instead, maybe you should consider volunteering your time in some different manner and leaving your dog at home to guard the house.

Dear Matthew: I've been taking my cat to the same veterinarian since I moved over a year ago. Recently, I've been noticing some problems: The vet doesn't really seem to like my cat, and I end up spending most of my time sitting around the lobby each time I go to see him. But his office is by far the closest to my apartment, so I'm not sure it's really worthwhile to find someone else. Do you think he really dislikes my cat, and if so, is that reason enough to switch?

- Dissatisfied With My Vet

Dear Dissatisfied: If a pediatrician didn't like your children, would you keep bringing your kids back? Trust and communication are extremely important in any doctor-patient relationship - and that includes the relationship between a veterinarian and your pet.

Although you shouldn't expect your veterinarian to buy your pet little gifts and stop by your house just to say hello, you should never get the impression that he doesn't like your cat - that seems to be a clear sign that something's wrong, and you should seriously consider finding someone else.

You should be less concerned with having to wait when bringing your cat in. This could even be construed as a good sign - that your veterinarian is both busy and popular among pet owners. Perhaps you've just been coming at one of his peak times. Vet offices can get extremely crowded on weekends. No matter who you choose as your vet, you ought to ask when the best time is to bring your cat by.

So, I suggest talking to your vet and sharing your concerns with him. If you're still dissatisfied, you ought to look around a bit, find out where your friends take their pets and then make an educated decision. Remember: Your pet's health is important, so trust, and not convenience, should be the determining factor.

Dear Matthew: I've recently been through a terrible situation that I think your readers should know about. I have a little puppy that I occasionally leave alone at my house. I've always been very careful about "puppy-proofing" where he stays - enclosing him in my kitchen with a dog gate and removing anything he might hurt himself with or chew on.

One day, I came home from work, and my neighbors met me as I got out of my car and told me they had just taken my puppy to the hospital. Apparently, they were out in their yard and heard the puppy screaming. When they went to investigate, they found he had gotten tangled up in the curtain cords by the kitchen's window and was strangling himself.

My neighbors saved my puppy's life, but if they hadn't been nearby, it would have been a tragedy. So I just wanted to tell your readers to make sure they do a thorough job of puppy proofing their house and consider every possible source of trouble that your dog can get into.

- Learned My Lesson

Dear Learned: Your advice is right on target. Every pet owner should go through their house looking for worst-case scenarios of what could happen while their pets are home alone. Countless tragedies occur every year because proper precautions aren't taken - take the time now to make sure that your pet is safe.