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Let cat, puppy get acquainted gradually

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Dear Matthew: You might say I have a problem of presidential proportions. You see, my son has a cat named Charlie that's 10 years old. Last fall, my son went off to college, leaving the cat with me and my wife.

We're both fine with the cat - she behaves herself and never causes any trouble. But, after seeing that President Clinton and Hillary bought a new puppy to help deal with their "empty nest" syndrome, we're considering getting a dog, too. I've always liked German shepherds, but until now, we've been a cat-only family.So, my question to you is this: What's the best way to introduce my cat and prospective new pup-py? Is there any systematic approach to this, or do you pretty much bring the dog home and hope for the best?

- Jim in Landover, Md.

Dear Jim: Since national security may be depending on the answer I give you, I'll try to be as clear as possible. So far, it seems as though the president is doing a fairly good job of introducing his two pets. Of course, when you have a home as big as the White House, there's plenty of space for the cat to go if it wants to escape an annoying puppy.

Here are the first steps you should take to make sure your cat doesn't get eaten or your puppy doesn't lose an eye. When you bring the puppy home (cats tend to get along better with puppies, since they aren't as big and imposing), confine your cat to one room, and let the puppy wander around the house.

Next, put your puppy in one small room - which is the proper housebreaking routine, anyway - and let your cat check out the house and get used to the dog's scent.

After you've done this for a few days, it's time for the first meeting. Either have your puppy on a strong leash or put him in a puppy crate, if you have one, and bring the cat into the room. There will probably be some hissing and a lot of barking, but as long as the situation doesn't turn violent, things will be OK. Socks and Buddy's first meeting was a good example of this - the cat hissing and raising her shackles while the puppy jumps excitedly.

Over the next few weeks, try more of these encounter sessions until you feel comfortable taking the leash off the puppy. As always, if either one gets violent, separate them, and try again the next day.

You may notice that your cat starts sulking, or otherwise staying out of view, for long periods of time. This isn't unusual, although it's not because the cat is mad at you or insanely jealous. Felines are creatures of routine.

Dear Matthew: What can you tell me about the breed of cat called the Russian blue? I've been looking for a pet for several months now, and I've recently seen a classified ad in the paper advertising these purebred kittens. The price seems to be right, and the photos I've seen of them look good. I'd like a cat with good lineage. Do you have any recommendations?

- Laura in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Dear Laura: Russian blues are loyal, demur, elegant cats with green eyes, glossy blue coats and silver on their feet and tail. They are quite intelligent and quiet, and this breed of cat is usually fairly well-behaved - although you can't expect any cat to be perfect.

But, if you want a cat that will leap on your lap, chase toys all over the house and hunger for your attention, then a Russian blue is probably not for you. Russian blues can be aloof sometimes.

So the bottom line is, if you have your heart set on a Russian blue and you like the shy personality type, this is the cat for you. Then again, you can find plenty of good kittens at the local animal shelter, too.

You shouldn't feel that purebred cats are any better than mixed-breeds. And, if you go to the shelter to pick out your kitten, you're not only getting a pet, you're saving a life.