After 15 years of writing this column, I've answered more than 3,100 questions from readers. It's impossible to choose a favorite, but I have managed to select a few of the more unusual questions from the archives:
Q: When Harley the hedgehog is in bed with me he sometimes spits on his quills. What's wrong? — L.M., Orland Park, Fla.
A: What's wrong? How about the picture of you sleeping with your hedgehog? I have no issue with people sleeping with dogs or cats, but move the wrong way, and the result might be a quill where you don't want one. Or worse, what if you crush your pet? By the way, Dawn Wrobel, author of "The Hedgehog: An Owner's Guide to a Happy, Healthy Pet" (Howell Book House, New York, N.Y. 1997; $12.95) explains that when hedgehogs like a scent — such as the smell of you — they literally lick it up. They create foamy saliva in their mouths and then wipe that scent on their quills.
Q: My year-old dog doesn't lift his leg to urinate. This is a problem because he piddles on his own front legs. His beautiful cream-colored coat is turning yellow. The vet says everything is OK, and my dog may catch on eventually. Any advice? — J. A.G., Peoria, Ill.
A: Some guys just mature slowly, as my mother has been known to say. It's a good guess that your dog is on the shy side or may be generally submissive. A little confidence boost could help him out. Enroll your pup in a dog training or agility class. Teach him little tricks, and reward him for success.
Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall, of Philadelphia, shared her own story of an Australian Shepherd named Flash who never grew cocky enough to cock his leg. She trained Flash to look at her while he piddled, changing his aim to smack between his legs instead of on himself. It's unlikely you'll need to go that far. Meanwhile, buy dog shampoo by the carton.
Q: Why does our cockatiel shake his head like a woodpecker? Is Mo-Jo-Jo-Jo just happy to see us? — L.M, San Diego
A: Yes, your bird is happy to see you, according to Diane Grindol, columnist at Bird Talk magazine and author of "Cockatiels for Dummies" (Hungry Minds Inc., New York, NY, 2001; $16.99). Mo-Jo-Jo-Jo is offering real Mojo, expressing courting behavior. "Don't worry, you're a part of his flock, it's OK," Grindol assures.
Q: Of course, Collies were originally bred to herd sheep. My Lassie has only seen sheep on TV. Why does my dog smell like sheep? — A.F., Phoenix
A: Dogs' coats sometimes can sometimes begin to smell like their environments. If you want to test if your friend or child is sneaking cigarettes, sniff the dog. However, if your dog has never been around sheep, it doesn't smell like sheep. All dogs can suffer from a long list of possible skin disorders, which may generate an odor. Ask your veterinarian to sniff and examine your dog.
Q: Can I train myself to have a bladder like my cat? She only urinates two or three times a week. — B.D., Cyberspace
A: If you have an indoor only cat, you'll find a smelly surprise if you check floor plants, bathroom rugs, or places in corners or behind furniture. Your cat is using the little box two or three times a week, but I can assure you she's not "holding it" for days at a time. Do have your vet check the cat for idiopathic cystitis or a urinary tract infection. A great resource is the Indoor Cat Initiative: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/.
Q: I'm so disgusted by all the fuss you make over pets. It's gotten to the point where society gets more upset over abused Pit Bulls than abused children. I'm sick of pet owners saying "money is no object" when it comes to their animals' veterinary bills. I'm sick of pets being called "four-legged family." Give me a break! — C.Z., Salem, Ore.
A: Why are you so angry? I think you need a pet. The pet will help to relax you.
Scientists around the world have documented that pets are good for us. They put smiles on faces; smiling increases 'good endorphins,' which are healthy for us. While we should exercise more than just by taking our pups for walks, but at least it's something. Some cardiac doctors have actually prescribed a dog as rehab.
I've never suggested that pets are more important than people. In fact, clearly people come first. But why does that mean we can't have regard for all life? Besides, by lessening animal abuse, we're helping people. It's been shown that people who abuse animals are far more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Check out the American Humane Association; they protect both children and animals.
I'm not sure why you're upset with people who choose to spend their money on pet care. Are you upset if your neighbors spend tons redesigning their kitchen or vacationing in exotic locations? Why is it your business? In fact, you should be grateful for what veterinary medicine can do these days. Human medical researchers and veterinarians are increasingly working together to study diseases in dogs, in particular. The result: Both dogs and people benefit.
Finally, here's a little statistic that'll make you even more sick and tired: There are more pets than children in America. Also, 94% of dog owners say they love their dogs and 89% of cat owners indicate love is also the top reason why they have a cat. I bet I just made your day.
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 Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. 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.