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Dear Matthew: I heard that in one of your books, you printed a very touching letter that your son wrote after his dog passed away. Our family just lost our 13-year-old dog, and I was hoping I could show that letter to my 11-year-old son as a way of comforting him. Would it be possible for you to reprint that letter in your column?

- A Reader in Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Reader: Losing a loved pet is always hard. When our family dog, Emily, died in my arms in 1990, it was one of the saddest moments of my life. Emily was a living example of the perfect dog - a dear friend to me and an inseparable companion to my 14-year-old son, Jesse.

In memory of Emily, Jesse wrote the following note:


Our back door creaked open with the same noise as always. It is difficult to recall bare specifics, but the extra and non-routine pair of footsteps nonchalantly intrigued my 6-year-old mind. All of a sudden, as if it were an ambush, a 3-month-old, 20-pound, uncoordinated German shepherd puppy came pouncing into my room. I was knocked over easily as she continued her rampage of destruction on her newfound home. My long-awaited dream became a reality as I was awed by my surprise Christmas present, "Emily." This "gift" eventually became my best friend, for I loved and trusted her with all my heart.

We grew up together, side by side. She was my true companion; whether fighting or playing, our friendship and love for each other broke all "barriers" of nature. Emily was not a helpless, inferior pet to me, for I looked upon her as a sister and a friend, and she understood me as well as anyone.

As we matured, our unique yet beautiful relationship changed. Both age and time became serious factors as she could no longer keep up with me, nor did I have the time to spend with her. This is slightly misleading, for we were still able to maintain the friendship we'd always had. At the age of 7, Emily underwent a total hip replacement operation that improved her physical condition greatly. She was loved by our whole family, as she was considered a member, so the slightest problem gathered a terrible amount of concern.

Yesterday, my father came 3,000 miles to visit me. When I casually asked how she was, an unknown frown appeared on his concerned face. Instantly, I knew that my worst nightmare and greatest fear had developed into a reality.

Emily Margolis passed away last week when a bloated stomach cut off her blood supply. As she painlessly left, she took with her a piece of my heart, as well as those of my parents. I have never loved anything as much as I did her, and I am grateful for all the wonderful memories that she brought to my life. I dedicate my childhood to her, and I will never forget our friendship.

I love you, Emily. - Jesse

Dear Matthew: My brother keeps picking our 4-year-old family cat up by the scruff of her neck. I keep telling him that he's hurting her, but he says that cats are used to it and that's the way it's done "in the wild."

Does he know what he's doing, or should he stop?

- Jane in Louisville, Ky.

Dear Jane: In this case, Sister knows best. While it's generally OK to pick up young kittens by the scruff of their necks, your cat is much too old for this type of thing. As you correctly surmised, doing this is sometimes dangerous and always painful for your feline friend.

There are several much better ways to pick up a cat, and since people like your brother don't seem to know them, they're worth going over here.

The key is to evenly support your cat's weight when lifting her. Use both hands, placing one under her stomach and the other under her chest, near her front legs. Cradle her back legs in one arm while allowing her front legs to rest on the other arm.

If you don't like that method, you can try picking up your cat by reaching around her, lifting her chest with the front of your arm, resting her body on the length of your arm.

As long as you support her body horizontally and don't allow any dangling legs, whatever method you choose should be just fine.

So, tell your brother to start treating your pet with a little respect and love - if something looks like it's hurting your cat, it probably is.