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Dear Matthew: I'm a 30-year-old guy who lives alone in a good-sized apartment. Although I'm really excited about getting a dog for my apartment, something has been troubling me. You see, I want to get a small dog, but my friends keep telling me that small dogs are for girls. Is that really true?

Personally, I think small dogs are great. I think they'd be a heck of a lot easy to manage than some big Labrador or German shepherd.Still, I don't want to be considered less of a man for owning a small dog. Do you think people will see me this way? - A Real Man in New York

Dear Real Man: I suppose I could say that if your friends tease you about your dog then they're not really your friends . . . but I don't want to sound like your mother.

To be honest, I think small dogs are great. I owned a Maltese when I was younger, and I loved that dog. There are a lot of good reasons to own a smaller dog.

I call small dogs portable love, since you can take 'em anywhere. You can pick them up and carry them around, and they are a lot easier to control. It's like owning a puppy that will never grow up.

Additionally, a small female dog is going to be a lot easier to housebreak, which is a good thing if you're not going to be able to get home for lunch to walk her.

So, don't worry about the macho guys criticizing your choice for a canine companion. It's not how big the dog is that counts, it's how big the love is.

Dear Matthew: Help! I have a problem with a neighbor's cats walking all over my car. It's not the dusty little footprints that bother me but the scratches on the finish!

I love animals, but truthfully, I am starting to loathe cats for this reason alone. This seems to occur mainly during the night, so squirting the cat with water won't work, and I don't want to wake the neighborhood with a car alarm.

We just moved in last September, and the problem started right away. The neighbor's cat at our last apartment had the same nasty habit, however.

I need a realistic solution that won't be cruel but will get the point across to the cats that my car is off-limits. What do you suggest?

- J.R.B. in Layton, Utah

Dear J.R.B.: I imagine that cats are attracted to your car because it is a warm place to relax on chilly evenings. Are they congregating on the hood, where they're close to the car's warm engine?

If you want to get these nuisances to leave your wheels alone, there are a number of things that might work. You could try putting upside-down mousetraps on your car. When a cat touches it, the trap would close, flicking the thing up in the air and startling the animal. Of course, this might scratch your finish as much as the cats.

You could also try buying some cat-repellent spray from a pet store and putting it on your car when you get home at night. The problem with this is that it might leave a sticky residue that you'd have to clean off.

Probably the most effective option would be to go to an automotive store and buy a cover for your car. Not only would the cats be unable to scratch your finish, your car would be less exposed to the elements.

If you're feeling particularly cranky, you could tell your neighbors to keep their cats inside and that outdoor cats have much shorter lives on average than indoor ones. But that might not be worth the trouble it could cause - it's up to you.

Dear Matthew: Now that summer's here, my husband and I have a question about the hot weather and our dog. He says that as long as we keep our car windows down, we can keep her in the car for about half an hour to an hour.

I'm not so sure, however, since it seems like our car gets hot after only a few minutes. I'd hate to sit in our car for an hour, so why should our Dalmatian?

How long you can keep a dog in a car on a hot day?

- A Couple in Virginia

Dear Couple: The rule is very simple. Don't leave your dog in the car during the summer even for a few minutes! Unless you want to put your dog's life in danger, it's something you should never do.

Like you said, you wouldn't want to be stuck in a hot car. Well, it's a lot worse for your dog. The sad fact is that too many dogs die this way each year.

While I'm on the subject of dogs and cars, I'm curious about how often you take your dog in the car with you. For safety's sake, you really shouldn't be doing this very frequently. If you're driving around all the time with your dog loose in your car, she could very easily distract you and cause an accident. Or, if you are unfortunate enough to get in an accident, your unsecured dog could be seriously injured.

Even small dogs aren't safe, since they could crawl down by your feet and prevent you from hitting the brakes or gas pedal. All in all, it's much better to just leave the dog at home.