Q: I'm a 54-year-old woman with some medical issues. I've survived breast cancer and am being treated for a cancer call malignant mesothelioma. I also have a very bad knee. Right now, overall, I feel OK, and I badly want a dog. Everyone keeps telling me how much work they are, and cautions me about the expense. I live on a fixed income. But I am lonely and depressed, and feel a small dog would help me. I don't mean to cry on your shoulder, but do you know of an agency that might offer financial support? Do you think I should adopt a new friend? -- R.M., Eagan, MN
A: It sounds like you've had a rough time, and if anyone deserves the unconditional love of a dog, you do. Certainly a dog is a commitment, but I suggest that adopting a small dog might save a pet's life and inspire your own.
Do check with your physician before you adopt a dog. If he/she gives you the OK, I enthusiastically support the idea.
You're right that pets generate expenses for food and medical care. One upside to adoption, however, is that it's a relative bargain since the pet is already spayed/neutered, vaccinated and, hopefully, healthy. Some shelters do feature low-cost veterinary clinics, and there are communities where at least one privately-owned clinic provides low-cost care. You would need to pay for heartworm preventive.
Some larger communities, such as Chicago, have pet food pantries associated with animal shelters. Perhaps there's a pantry in St. Paul.
Another option might be to have a friend or relative leave their pet with you for a few days every few weeks. Most animals will settle into such an arrangement, but I realize it's not quite the same as having your own pet.
Q: My newly-adopted dog is beginning to understand house training. Now, how do I get him to signal me with a woof when he's gotta go? -- K.L., Indianapolis, IN
A: When your dog barks, say "Good!" and let him outdoors. At first, choose a time when you know he's likely to do his business, and encourage him to bark (perhaps through play). However, be careful what you've trained for. Once you've trained your dog to bark to go out, how will you know if he's barking just to bark, or wants out? Some dogs do learn to bark just to be let out. They don't need to go, but simply want to run around the yard.
Q: We purchased our two dachshund brothers in the winter, and housetraining didn't go well. We decided to use pee pads, which turned out to be a big mistake. Now, the dogs are nearly 2 years old and still going on the pads only. How do we get them to relieve themselves outside? -- R.N., Wild Rose, WI
A: It's interesting how problems come in twos with dachshunds. Day by day, move those pee pads closer to a door. Once you get there, let the pads straddle the door for a day or two, then put them outside. Next, take your dogs on leash to the pads. As they go, say, "Go potty!" and instantly offer a treat only used for this purpose and lots of praise. Eventually you'll train them to do their business on cue.
Once the dogs are comfortable going on pee pads outside for a week or so, start cutting away the pads little by little. As the pads shrink, the dogs will start to go on the grass until they must because the pads are too small to use.
If you leave your dogs alone for than 6 to 8 hours a day, the best option is to offer a place they can relieve themselves - such as pee pads. Our bladders are a lot larger, and how many of us could go 6 to 8 hours without visiting the bathroom? Other options: Install a doggy door (and show your pets how to use it), or hire a dog walker.
Q: Our cat is a hockey fan, pushing anything small enough around on our wood floors. She's 9 months old and never seems to stop playing. Sometimes, she finally stops because she's out of breath. Can a kitten play too much? -- N.M., Buffalo, NY
A: Your kitten sounds perfectly normal, albeit active. Generally, even active kittens play only in spurts. While some dogs can play fetch forever, cats more easily become winded and likely bored. If you have a rare marathon-player, try to enjoy her fun-loving nature by creating new games. Your cat sounds like a wonderful prospect for clicker training: teaching her "tricks" to impress friends and relatives. You can train a kitten do just about anything you can teach a puppy to do.
If your kitten actually wheezes or seems to have difficulty catching her breath, videotape tape this (using a smart phone will do). It's unlikely she'll repeat her exhausting play at the veterinary clinic and the symptoms that follow. This way, your veterinarian can make the call.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)