I look forward to reader comments, questions and concerns. Here's a selection I received recently:
DEAR STEVE: I'd never read your column until recently, because I don't have any pets. I wish to point out an opposite view on household pets. Whether dogs or cats, pets are not members of anyone's family. They're not human. You and so many people today seem to forget these two simple things. While I don't dislike animals and had both dogs and cats earlier in my life, I don't care to be around anybody's animals these days, especially in my house.
Dogs, no matter how well-behaved, disrupt a household. How many elderly people trip over their pets every year? Pets leave a smell in the house even if they're well bathed. And good luck on there being no toileting accidents. I don't mean to blame pets, but this whole situation is a classic case of the world "going to the dogs." — C.C., Anderson, S.C.
COMMENT: I'm glad you discovered my column, but I must add to your store of facts. First, you're correct that pets are not human, and to treat pets as people is a disservice to both animals and people.
Having said that, according to studies, around 90% of owners consider their pets members of the family. Many people spend more time with their pet(s) than a spouse. Seniors sometimes depend on a pet as their primary companion.
You're also correct that human companionship is different than living with a pet. But study after study has also confirmed that pets are healthful for people. I would suggest (without having real data, I'm just guessing) that more seniors have accidents in the bathtub or shower, or even getting out of bed, than the number who take a tumble over a pet.
We have two dogs, a cat and a lizard in our home, but unless you either have severe allergies or you're part Beagle, I'd challenge you to detect any offensive animal odors in the house.
Of course, an old or sick animal might have a toileting accident, but so what? If things like that bother you, you shouldn't have a pet. I'm not suggesting everyone should have a pet; this is an individual choice. However, the majority of Americans now have at least one pet. In fact, today there are more pets than children in the U.S.
DEAR STEVE: My name is Evin, and I'm in 7th grade. I'm doing a research project on pit bulls. I have a 9-month-old pit bull named Ollie and an American bulldog named Ruby.
Today at school, while doing research, I read one of your columns and decided to email you. I've now looked through most of your pit bull columns and I appreciate your determination to save the pit bull, and your love for the breed.
Thank you for being a good person; I'm sure all the pit bulls appreciate it. — E.J., Batavia, Ill.
COMMENT: As I've contended (and science supports), with proper socialization and decent genetics, pit bull-type dogs make devoted family pets. I think Michael Vick demonstrated that many of these dogs are actually victims of the worst demonstration of human character.
DEAR STEVE: I heard you were voted into the Dog Writer's Assn. of America Hall of Fame. I had no idea an organization of dog writers even existed. As a shelter volunteer and veterinary assistant, I've been following your work for years. Congratulations. — B.T., Chicago
COMMENT: I maintain that I'm awfully young for the honor. Truly, when notified of the award, I was worried that members of the committee had spoken to my doctor and knew something I didn't! Learn more about the Dog Writer's Assn. of America at http://www.dwaa.org. Thanks for your kind words.
DEAR STEVE: After my childhood dog got poisoned, along with many others in the neighborhood, I didn't want a dog anymore.
My husband had a dog, Ninja, who was the greatest Frisbee catcher ever. When she grew old and ill, we were trying to make that tough decision. My son, who was in first grade, found our beloved puppy dead on the lanai. She's buried on a friend's property.
It took us two and a half years to get another dog. Our hearts were broken, but we didn't want to live without a dog. — C.S., Cyberspace
COMMENT: I understand.
DEAR STEVE: I recently found a lost dog with no tags or microchip. As luck would have it, the owner had been looking for her at veterinary clinics. This story had a happy ending, but please remind readers to provide dog tags and a microchip. — J.F., Lutz, Fla.
COMMENT: You just did, and I thank you. I would add that cats should also wear I.D. tags and be microchipped, even if they're indoor only. And all owners should register their pet(s) with the microchip provider.
DEAR STEVE: I've always learned about pets by reading your columns, and one recent column changed my life. I was reading a question emailed by a couple in their 90s. I was kind of afraid of email, but thought if they can do it, I can, too. After all, I'm only 76. Thanks for the inspiration. — G.H., Cyberspace
COMMENT: Next thing I know, I'll be receiving your text messages — and you'll be buying electronic books on a Kindle, Nook or iPad, like my two books, "Good Dog!" and "Good Cat!"
STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.