Dear Matthew: I have two dogs. Recently, one of my dogs had a litter of eight puppies. Obviously, we're overwhelmed and are planning on giving most of the puppies away.

My question is this: What sort of things should I look for in my puppies' prospective owners ? I want to give them a good home, so I want to be able to separate the good people from the bad ones. Thanks!- Lucille in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Dear Lucille: It's quite important that you find the right families to adopt your puppies. So when you start meeting people, try to get as much information as possible.

What is their family like? Have they ever owned dogs before? Do they have small children? Why do they want a dog? Do they live in a house or apartment? Do they have time to take care of a dog? How do they train dogs - do they consider physical punishment necessary?

You also should try to find out whether they know how expensive a dog can be and if they're really able to afford one. The expenses, such as food, toys and veterinary care, can really add up.

The bottom line is that you want to find out if your dogs are going to have living environments that are healthy, happy and safe. The more questions you ask, the better idea you have about what your puppies will face when they get to their new home.

A lady I know actually goes to the prospective owners' homes to make sure they really have a good place to raise a dog. And, honestly, this can be really useful, if you have the time.

When you give your puppies away, one really good idea is to also give the new owners a dog-training book. That way, you can be sure they have the information they need to properly raise the dog.

If you do a good job screening potential owners, your puppies will have a bright future. But if you let just anyone take your dogs, they could very well end up discarded in an animal shelter - and I'm sure you don't want that.

Dear Matthew: I'm about to get a kitten from a friend, and I've got one basic, simple question: How do you litter-box-train a cat?

I've owned dogs before, so I know how to handle them, but cats are a different story. Do they require the same sort of techniques as dogs? Is this going to be a long, messy process like it was with my German shepherd? And what kind of litter should I get?

I just want to prepare myself for what's ahead.

- Expecting Owner in Lubbock, Texas

Dear Expecting Owner: I've got some good news for you - most cats learn how to use a litter box from their mother at a very early age.

You might want to check with your friend, but if the kitten spent the first couple of months of its life with Mom, it knows what to do. Cats, by their nature, are instinctually inclined to use litter - lucky for them and us, huh?

There are, of course, certain things you can do to make the kitten's transition to a new house and litter box easier. For instance, if you want to make sure your kitten knows where its litter box is. Bring it to the box as soon as it arrives. And, several times a day for the next few weeks, bring the kitten to the box and put it in the box.

If you live in a big house, you may want to have several litter boxes or - even better - keep your kitten closed off in part of the house so the creature isn't completely overwhelmed.

Also, if you do notice your cat has made a "mistake," be sure to clean up the area quickly. If you don't get the scent out of the floor, your cat may consider that area a permissible litter box and . . . well, you can imagine what happens next.

What type of litter should you get? Cats can be very choosy about this sort of thing, so I recommend sticking with something tried and true. Most tend to prefer the sand kind, although some people use wood chips or shredded newspaper. You're going to want to fill the box with about 2 inches of the material, whatever you choose.

So, just pick out something you think will work. If your cat doesn't seem to like it, try something else. Once you find one your cat likes, stick to it and don't switch brands. Your cat's probably going to be happy with what you get it, so I wouldn't lose any sleep over this.