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UNLESS YOU NEED PROTECTION NOW, GET A PUPPY

Dear Matthew: I'm interested in getting a dog to protect my wife and 4-year-old daughter while I'm away on business trips. I'm having trouble deciding whether to buy a fully trained adult dog or to get a puppy and train it myself. Complicating this is the fact that my wife keeps telling me that she's afraid of dogs and she'd prefer not to have one. So, I guess I'm wondering how old a dog I should get and what I should do about my wife's feelings.

- Traveling Missouri Husband

Dear Traveling Husband: The first thing you need to ask yourself is whether you really need an older dog or just want one. If you feel as though your family is in imminent danger, then you may need a protection dog right away.

On the other hand, if you think having a dog to protect your house would be nice but not absolutely necessary, then you're probably better off starting with a puppy. This is also a good idea because it'd give your wife a chance to adjust to having a dog in the house. Instead of having a huge 2-year-old German shepherd roaming about, she'd be dealing with a much less intimidating puppy.

Additionally, if your wife is scared of having a full-grown dog in the house, she's liable to make your child scared as well. If you get a puppy, I bet your daughter will find it a great source of entertainment.

So, unless you really need a full-grown dog, I'd recommend doing some research, buying some dog-training books and then getting a puppy. And maybe watch some old "Lassie" reruns with your wife to help her get over her fear of dogs. If that fails, there are some counseling meetings that help people who are afraid of animals - either way, she should be able to overcome her fears.

Dear Matthew: I'm going to be traveling across the country for a couple of months, and I want to take my cat with me - but I'm scared to death of taking my little Janice on a plane. I've heard horror stories about pets that get lost or injured while being transported. Are any of my concerns justified?

- Worried Traveler

Dear Traveler: You're afraid your cat may not be ready for the jet-set crowd? Although it's a good idea to exercise caution when taking your cat on a plane, modern airlines have a number of federally enforced regulations to protect the safety of your pets while they're in transit.

The first thing you should do before you bring your cat on a plane is call the airline you're taking and find out what its specific policies are for pets. Be sure to ask if it would be possible to take your pet with you in the cabin of the plane, using a travel kennel that fits under the seat.

Even if you can't take your cat with you in the cabin, you shouldn't be too concerned. Just be sure and buy a travel kennel that's up to federal standards and has a good locking mechanism. The pet section of the luggage compartment of the plane is fully pressurized and climate-controlled, so Janice will be perfectly happy.

Here are a couple of other useful tips when flying with your pet: Try to take a nonstop flight to reduce the risk of having your pet lost in transit. Travel in the morning or evening to avoid hot summer afternoons that could dehydrate your pet. Clearly mark the pet carrier with your name and phone number. Finally, you might want to put a frozen chunk of ice in a dish for your cat to drink - the ice will melt by the time your cat gets thirsty, and the water won't spill while she's being loaded on the plane.

So, good luck in your travels. I'm sure everything will go smoothly.

Dear Matthew: I'm 65 years old, I've owned several dogs throughout my life, and now I'm thinking of getting a puppy - but I don't know if I want to go through all the struggles involved in raising the dog, watching it grow old and seeing it die. I miss owning a pet, but I guess I'm a little uncertain whether I would still make a good owner. Should I go through with this?

- Senior in Nevada

Dear Senior: First of all, you've obviously loved dogs all your life, so why deny yourself that pleasure now? You should be enjoying these years of your life.

Pets and senior citizens are a great combination. Oftentimes, it's easy for an elderly person to think, "I don't want to take care of myself; life is terrible." When you have to take care of something like a dog, it means you have to get up every morning, get exercise and accomplish things. You're responsible for another life, and that can be a very fulfilling experience.

Another great thing about owning a dog is this is the only time in your life you get to choose your own relative - so pick out the dog that's best for you.

The bottom line is that you're never too old to put more love in your life.