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Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page C10

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 3-year-old cat, Charlie, displays excessive aggressiveness at times. This usually happens in the early morning at about 4 or 5 a.m. when he wakes up and wants attention. If he does not get it, which he never does at that hour of the day, he sometimes attacks the part of my body that is not covered up, which is usually my head. Twice in the last month his biting attacks have drawn blood.

I have sprayed him with water and my husband has pushed him off the bed. This is beginning to happen more and more frequently. I really don't want this to develop into a fixed bad habit. Any advice?

A.W., Arlington

Charlie is behaving like a demanding, bratty child. Most likely he was over-indulged as a kitten and never learned that there are certain boundaries -- like not always being allowed on your lap, or being allowed to play too roughly without any corrective reprimand.

The way one cat dominates another is to grab the scruff of the neck and not let go until the other cat (who will often yowl in protest and try to scratch and twist free) submits and remains passive. Soon after, the dominant cat -- typically a mother reprimanding a kitten -- will often make up and groom or play with the socially readjusted cat.

You will probably need a thick-sleeved jacket to protect your arms when engaging in this corrective behavior the next time Charlie comes to wake you up. Do it before he attacks, and, just before you grab him, yell, "No, Charlie!" After a few of these correctives (which are physically harmless), Charlie should acquire some psychological conditioning and understand that you are the boss and that attacking you is unacceptable.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I'm in high school and will be a senior next year. After visiting our local animal shelter to adopt a puppy with my parents, I went back and now do volunteer work on weekends. There are all kinds of pet issues, cruelty cases and so many abandoned animals. I want to write a class-project paper on this, and want to become more involved -- like perhaps pursuing a career helping animals. What advice can you give me?

A.R., Washington

I commend you for your concern and commitment. Go to my Web site at tedeboy.tripod.com/drmichaelwfox/id25.htmlto read "Companion Animal Concerns," an article I wrote that should help you see the big picture and possibly get you started on a career in helping animals.

Also, go online and do a search for "animal protection organizations" and "animal rights and welfare." Continue volunteering at your local animal shelter, and perhaps branch out to volunteer work at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Good luck!

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have two female Jack Russell terriers, littermates who are currently 4 years old. After owning many mutts during our lives, this is our first experience with a specific breed.

While we dearly love our two girls (Thelma and Louise), we are struck by two unusual characteristics shared by both. When we take them out walking (three long ones a day), they often hop on just one of their back legs, choosing to hold the other one off the ground. They switch off frequently, so it's not always the same back leg raised. Consequently, walking behind them can be pretty hilarious, especially if both dogs happen to have their inside-back legs raised at the same time. It looks like some kind of impromptu circus act.

The other odd characteristic exhibited by both Thelma and Louise happens when we go to bed. No matter how warm it is in the room, both dogs insist upon burrowing deep under the covers. There they will remain until morning, when both resemble baked potatoes. Is this behavior unique to Jack Russells, and what does it mean?

E.G., Slingerlands, N.Y.

Both of your Jack Russell terriers could have "trick knees," where the patella (or "kneecap") slips in and out so the dog has an intermittently stiff leg. This is most common in toy poodles and other small breeds, is inherited, and can be corrected surgically. Your dogs could also have a muscle disorder that causes cramping after physical exertion, so a full veterinary checkup is called for.

It is amazing how dogs and cats enjoy burrowing under the covers for the night and never, to my knowledge, suffocate. I would like to hear from readers whose animals have encountered breathing or lack of oxygen difficulties related to sleeping under sheets or covers. My guess is that most sheets and bedspreads are porous enough to provide sufficient oxygen for a cozy animal, who is in a state of such deep relaxation that very little oxygen is needed.

Michael Fox is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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