My brother and sister-in-law are the proud "parents" of a fuzzy, fat-bellied, big-pawed lug of a yellow Labrador retriever pup.
The first thing they did after they brought him home was name him Max.
The second thing they did was call me.
"Is it normal for a puppy to get carsick?" said my brother. I think it's just the first of many such calls.
People have some funny ideas about puppy-raising, some based on information they picked up as a child while watching their parents raise the family dog. They learned to "housebreak" a puppy by pushing its nose in the mess and swatting it with a newspaper, and they think that obedience training starts at six months in a harshly run canine boot camp.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Knowledgeable people know puppy-raising is really "puppy molding," and it starts from Day One, with a breeder who's informed and caring enough to properly handle the puppy in the first critical weeks of its life.
My brother and sister-in-law, by all reports, found such a breeder. Their puppy was raised in the home, thoroughly socialized with both adults and children. Even better, the puppy is the offspring of genetically and temperamentally sound parents.
So far, so good. And now it's up to them, the difficult but fun job of raising a puppy, through the piddles and puddles, the chewing and nipping, the small emergencies that seem to pop up no matter how hard you work to avoid them.
I've long had a theory that the reason puppies are so adorable is that it's a survival technique. Who could stay angry very long at the puppy who just chewed up a new shoe? One look at the little puppy face and you're a goner.
My brother and sister-in-law are now working on what I prefer to call house training, confining Max to a small shipping crate for naps and using his own denning instinct to teach him the household rules in a positive way. They know that accidents happen, and how to correct them without resorting to punishment.
After a napping, playing, eating or drinking, puppy goes outside and is encouraged to eliminate, followed by plenty of praise.
Crate-training is a faster, gentler and neater way to get past the worst part of puppy-raising, and Max is lucky they know it.
They also know that classes now start at just over 12 weeks, in "puppy kindergartens" where socialization and gentle encouragement set the stage for real training later. Puppy classes teach puppies to learn, and teach owners to teach, in a lighthearted setting where play is encouraged, and petting is the rule. Such classes are important, because it's easier by far to instill good habits than correct bad ones later.
For all new puppy parents I recommend two books: "How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With," by Clarice Rutherford and David Neil (Alpine Press, $7.95), and "Mother Knows Best: the Natural Way to Train Your Dog," by Carol Lea Benjamin (Howell Book House, $18.95). My brother and sister-in-law may be reading them right now.
But it's more likely they're out in the back yard, encouraging the puppy to choose lawn over carpet.
Q: We're going to have our kitten declawed. Why are only the front claws trimmed? Should we ask for her back ones to be clipped, too?
A: Slow down a minute. Before you send your kitten in for surgery, take some time to understand what you're having done to her, and then think about it a half-dozen more times.
Declawing should be considered a last resort, never a routine procedure like a spay or neuter. You seem to believe that the procedure merely involves clipping the nails, when in fact it entails removing not only the claws, but also the bone at the end of the toe. It's somewhat similar to amputating the tips of your fingers, from the first joint forward. Front paws are the only ones involved in the vast majority of cases, since most of destructive clawing does not involve the rear paws.
It's a major procedure and a very controversial one among cat lovers, many of whom consider it reprehensible. Once declawed, cats must be kept inside, since they are defenseless without their natural weapons, easy prey to roaming dogs and at a considerable disadvantage in skirmishes with other cats.
Before sending your cat to be declawed, explore all possible options. Provide your pet with a scratching post to give her a place to do the stretching and clawing all cats need. Discourage furniture destruction by shooting water at her with a spray bottle, and by keeping the furniture off-limits when you're not around. Finally, learn to keep the sharpest edge off your cat's nails through regular clipping. It's a simple procedure, especially when you start with a kitten.
With a little effort on your part, you can probably spare your cat the trauma of this often unnecessary and always debatable surgery.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278.