Q: I know you have a shelter puppy, Steve. Here's our problem: We've always had Newfoundlands. I want to adopt a shelter dog, but how do we find a Newfie? — V.D., Boston
A: You don't. Open your mind to getting something that's Newfie-like: just a large dog. Four years ago, we received a call from a friend at Animal Care and Control in Chicago about a litter of Australian Shepherd-type puppies, knowing we'd lost a dog several months earlier and that my wife and I liked Aussies. Well, I don't know what Ethel is, but she certainly didn't turn out to be an Australian shepherd. I doubt there's any Aussie in her but, of course, it doesn't matter one bit.
You clearly like larger dogs, so periodically check local shelters for big guys, or let your mouse do the walking at http://www.petfinder.com. You could also contact a Newfoundland rescue organization. Find a local rescue for any American Kennel Club breed at http://www.akc.org.
Get into the spirit and adopt, especially now. October is the American Humane Assn.'s Adopt-A-Dog Month. Get lots of tips on dog adoption at http://www.americanhumane.org.
Q: We put off getting a dog until our kids got older. Now, one child is 11, and the other is 14. We went to three shelters and have looked on Petfinder.com. Frankly, we're overwhelmed. Any advice on adoption? — B.H.
A: If anyone should know, it's Betsy Saul, founder of http://www.petfinder.com. "It's overwhelming, I know," she says. "There are thousands of dogs available. Take a breath. And understand that taking your time is always best rather than pushing too hard and making an impulsive choice."
Saul says to first think about the kind of dog you're seeking, by breed. "Or a mix is fine, too, but do you prefer a herding-type dog — who may need a 'job' and an interactive owner — or a toy dog to cuddle with. It's not only about the type of dog you want, and size, but also about your lifestyle."
The Petfinder site has breed information. So do a lot of books, including "The Howell Book of Dogs," by Liz Palika (Wiley Publishing, New York, NY, 2007; $29.99).
Q: I am feeding a stray long-haired cat. The cat was skin and bones when I started. This is a friendly cat that even turns over to let me pet its stomach. It scratched me once, but I think that was a mistake. The cat seems fine with my Bichon-Poodle.
What if I can get someone to catch this cat? What happens next? I don't want it to be taken to a shelter and put to sleep. I'm also not sure if I should take in this cat, since I'm afraid of cats. Can you help? — M.Z., North Las Vegas, Nev.
A: Becky Robinson, founder of Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit organization that advocates for feral cats, says you likely saved this cat's life. "You should feel very good about that," she notes.
There are lots of good options for this cat. However, shelters are so overrun with cats that relinquishing this pet to a shelter may not be the best choice.
You don't know the cat well enough to attempt to pick it up, so Robinson recommends trapping the pet using a humane trap. Take it to a veterinarian to be spayed/neutered (if necessary), to undergo a cursory physical exam and receive a rabies shot. Microchipping is also a good idea. The cat should be checked for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Of course, someone will have to pay for all of this. There may be a cat rescue group in your area willing to foot the bill, or perhaps you can pay.
I know you're not really a cat lover, but if you didn't have a big heart you wouldn't have gone this far in the first place. If the cat is truly friendly, consider adopting this unexpected houseguest.
I'm telling you, the best ambassadors for cats are cats. People who tell me, "I would never have a cat" have never had a cat. How would they know? Because this cat seems to get along with dogs, it would provide companionship for your pooch when you're not around.
Of course, there are other options. You could try a no-kill shelter (although they're mostly filled), or a cat-loving friend or neighbor. You might even sell the pet on the Internet.
Do consider these wise words from Robinson: "It's amazing how cats choose people out of the blue. Maybe this cat knows something about you."
Oct. 16 is Alley Cat Allies National Feral Cat Day. Learn more at http://www.alleycat.org. Also, for experienced or novice cat owners, check out a free guide to cat care at http://www.catalystcouncil.org.
Q: Our 11-year-old dog has suddenly developed bad breath. What over-the-counter product should we buy? We don't know that cleaning his teeth under anesthetic is something we want to put him through at this age. Any advice? — B.J.W., Vadnais Heights, Minn.
A: Anytime there's a sudden change in a pet's health, your first response should be to contact your vet. While there are several potential causes, canine halitosis might be blamed on tartar and plaque.
"Old age is not a disease, and for most pets the benefits of a dental (cleaning the teeth) may prolong your dog's life," says Chicago-based veterinary dentist Dr. Cindy Charlier. "Of course, your dog should have blood work done first, and your veterinarian will assess what's appropriate for your pet."
A dog's breath shouldn't smell stinky, and it won't following a cleaning.
"Plaque and tartar may cause changes in the liver, kidney and heart," adds Charlier. "A healthy mouth leads to a healthy body. An over-the-counter product might freshen the breath for minutes or even hours, but doesn't address the underlying problem." Also, ask your vet how to maintain your dog's teeth by brushing and/or the use of specially formulated dental chews. Even some chew toys may help.
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. Write to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.