Dear Dog Lady,
My family, which includes my husband, who’s an emergency room physician, my eight year-old son, ten-yearold daughter and I, are all going to New Zealand for six months on a sabbatical. We believe this will be a fantastic experience for everyone. My husband will be consulting to a hospital in Auckland while the children will be enrolled in New Zealand schools. We plan to do a lot of traveling and enjoying life in another country. There is one problem: Because of the animal quarantine laws, we can’t bring our beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Dagny. We are now deciding about arrangements for Dagny’s care Friends of my daughter usually mind our dog when we go away. This has been fine with us because they seem to care for Dagny very much. They have now volunteered to watch her for the whole six months. But they have asked for joint custody of the dog when we return. The parents of my daughter’s friend fear their children will become overly attached and it will be wrenching to give up Dagny completely when we return. Their request sounds sensible to me, but it still makes me feel weird. What do you think of this? -Ania, Boston, MA

Ania, yup, at first blush, it does sound a bit weird. However, if you deconstruct their proposal, you can understand the request is perfectly reasonable and may even work out for the best.

While you’re off stalking the wild kakapo, you can be assured that Dagny is being loved as one of a family-the situation she has been accustomed to in your home. Her new caretakers are not strangers. They know her lovable quirks and routines. They are stakeholders, investors in her health and welfare. This is the benefit of the arrangement.

A lot can change in six months. Dagny will never forget you and she will be happy to see you when you return. However, if she has blended into a new family, she will inevitably bond to them and vice versa. Her world will have expanded and you must accommodate her growth.

Dog Lady has written of this before, but now is the ideal time to remind you that dogs in shared custody arrangements do very well. The back and forth becomes part of their routine and they adapt remarkably. Also, when you return from New Zealand, you will be in the throes of settling into your life, so you will have the flexibility to allow the Dagny agreement to become part of your new world as well.

This all seems strange to you now, but you haven’t taken off from the tarmac yet. You will become used to it, as you will become accustomed to all things kiwi. Imagine the profound relief knowing Dagny is just ducky on the other side of the planet. Not many dog keepers can leave their pet behind for six months and have this guarantee.

Dear Dog Lady,
A friend who watches a lot of daytime TV told me Barbara Walters claimed her dog said "I love you." Am I hearing this right? Has the woman gone completely off her rocker-or "wocker," as Walters might say? -Deedee, Portland, OR

Deedee, ‘tis twoo, ‘tis twoo. Barbara Walters, prima talkerina on ABC’s The View, trilled about the antics of her dog, Cha-Cha, when she boasted that the little Havanese chimed "I love you" to Walters and the maid while the three rode an elevator.

Hey, why not? Dog Lady knew a Pug, Bebop, who could spout endearments on demand. Of course, Bebop’s verbalizations came out sounding like "Woo, woo, woo," but the Pug’s keepers and admiring spectators believed they heard "I love you."

Let’s assume Cha-Cha has a lisp like his mistress. His "ruff ruff" comes out like "luff luff," which could be misinterpreted as "love, love."

Deedee, those of us who keep companion animals attribute remarkable things to our pets. Barbara Walters is no different. She wanted to hear "I love you" and she did-even if Cha-Cha was really saying, "Get me outside, woman! My bladder is not made of steel."

Dear Dog Lady,
I have a three-year-old black Lab named Molly who is perfect in every way except one: her habit of turning her doggie bed into a repository of family shoes and clothes. Every day and sometimes during the night, dear Molly collects whatever slippers or shoes are lying about and brings them to her bed. Anything hanging on the back of a door knob or on a bed ends up in her bed. She doesn’t chew them up but just seems happy to have them gathered about her. What does this all mean? She has lots of toys she could collect in her bed. -Jan, Toronto, ON

Jan, your fashion hound seems to be taking her latest collection very seriously. She designs her nest with family shoes and clothes, which seems quite adorable to Dog Lady and maybe to you too because you don’t sound too upset about it.

You must understand the found items are so much better than her toys because these garments reek of beloved odours and essences. Dog Lady remembers her family’s black Lab, Sooty, had a similar yen. He would gather strewn items after we left for the day. We’d come home to find Sooty sleeping with his nose in my mother’s nightgown and brother’s dirty underwear.

Dogs need to do work and Molly, a Retriever, sees her job as collector of stray shoes and clothes. She’s just doing what comes naturally and hopes to win your approval. Have you thought of officially hiring her on as the cleaning lady?

Dear Dog Lady,
We live in an apartment and would love to have a small dog. Our building has a "no pets" policy; however, several tenants have small dogs and cats. When we asked our landlords, they told us these tenants have prescriptions for therapeutic pets and having one of these prescriptions is the only way for us to obtain a pet. What do you know about prescriptions for therapeutic pets? Do you have to be clinically depressed or have other mental disorders in order to qualify? Or you can you just really love animals? Is this something that our family practice doctor can write a prescription for? Thanks for any light you can shed on this topic. -Allison, New York, NY

Allison, your provocative question uncork a new kink in the ties between people and pets. Yes, dogs now have gotten the medical status of "emotional therapy" animals. Dog Lady presumes there are psychiatrists and psychologists who will validate this condition. However, it seems these people in the apartment building aren’t mental cases. They are merely working the system to skirt the rule.

You could do this too, if you are so willing, but Dog Lady is not going to advise you about personal ethics. It depends on whether you want to make a medical mental case with your family doctor in order to flout the apartment’s code.

Our pets provide emotional sustenance just by "being." They’re sweeter than Prozac and much more fun. You’re not seeking a dog for any other reason than you want a small dog to keep you company and smooth out the rough edges of life. If the residents of this apartment complex need to plead insanity in order to keep companion animals, you’re more than welcome to do the same. However, it might be saner all the way around if you looked for another apartment where dogs are welcomed under all circumstances, not just trumpedup mental duress.

Dear Dog Lady,
My West Highland White Terrier, Abbie, sits and looks out the window all day at the squirrels in my yard. As soon as she gets a chance, she runs outside barking and looking up the trees. When I walk her (an hour every day), she is constantly on the lookout and goes crazy as soon as she sees one. What can I do to get her mind off squirrels and become more focused on what I’m telling her? -Elizabeth, London, ON

Oh Elizabeth, welcome to Westie World, a place Dog Lady lives in every day. In Westie World, rodents rampage and every word begins with S-Q-U. In Westie World, there is the enduring possibility of a squirrel in every pot, a squirrel in every tree, and a whole pack of squirrels over the rainbow.

Good luck getting your Westie to pay attention to you when squirrels run around. Westies are fixated on squirrels, addicted to squirrels. All their instincts tell them to chase squirrels. That’s why you must hold on tight to your Abbie’s leash whenever you go outside for your long walks (and congratulations for giving her an hour a day).

As Abbie goes into her squirrel trance, you might try getting in her face and staring into her eyes to command her attention. Then, you could give her a delicious treat to induce her to fall back down to Earth for a moment and forget the furry critters. Otherwise, just know that squirrels will always fascinate and tempt her. It’s nature.

Dear Dog Lady,
After years of being a bachelor, I have finally met a great woman. How I met her is really not that important. All I’ll say is that I’m glad I got a computer. Even though I have to commute a distance to see my girlfriend, I would gladly make the drive any day of the week. Yet, there’s one little hitch. Actually, the little hitch is a little bitch. My girlfriend has a small fluffy white girl dog named Mabel. Mabel is cute and all. I’m not complaining about her. She’s friendly to me and I do enjoy being around a dog, which I realize I’ve missed almost as much as having a girlfriend. Mabel is game to run after a ball and fetch a stick. In other words, she’s a dog’s dog. I just wish she weren’t white and fluffy. So far, I’ve been driving to visit my girlfriend. But I know I want her to come up to visit me and Mabel will have to come along. I’m embarrassed to be seen with a little white fluffy dog around my guy friends. They all have big Retrievers that ride in their trucks with them. I’ve told them all about the new girlfriend, but I haven’t told them about the little dog. How will they react to Mabel? Should I care? -Cliff, Squamish, BC

Cliff, a little white dog doesn’t know she’s a little white dog unless you treat her like a stuffed animal. Around other dogs, Mabel is a member of the pack. No canine gives a twig if she’s white and fluffy. Dogs don’t discriminate. Only people care about such silly things.

Do not worry an iota about how your pals will react to Mabel. After they allow their Retrievers to get a good sniff of her, all creatures great and small will be assured this girl is one of the boys. ■

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