Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted our shepherd mix, Ginger, when she was 11 months old. Now she's age 2 and we're thinking about getting another dog. But Ginger is spayed, and I've heard that spayed dogs don't do well together. Is this so?

Ginger also gets protective around dogs she doesn't know. How could we add a new dog to the household without inflicting too much trauma on Ginger?

A.B., Centreville, Va.

If you have the time and energy, an 8- to 10-week-old pup may be ideal and certainly less threatening to Ginger than an adult dog. But an already housebroken, neutered male or female adult dog, of the same or slightly smaller size, would be less work for you than a young puppy. So that is your decision.

Visit your local shelter and see what's available for adoption. Ideally, let Ginger meet the dog or pup of your choice in an examination room or other quiet part of the shelter.

If this approach is not amenable to the shelter operators, or if there is any question about health risks to Ginger (since poorly run shelters can be a source of infection, especially kennel cough), make your choice and take the animal to your veterinarian for a checkup and a few days in quarantine, if needed.

Then have Ginger first meet her new canine companion outside your home -- in the park or a quiet side street. A first meeting in such "neutral territory" will be least threatening to Ginger.

Needless to say (I hope), you will give Ginger plenty of TLC during the adjustment period, so that she doesn't become jealous of or aggressive toward the newcomer.

Dear Dr. Fox:

In a recent column you stated that old wives' tales give cats a bad reputation. Well, when my brother was a couple of months old, I walked into the bedroom to find our cat on top of him with her mouth pushed into his, sucking and kneading! I ran to my mother who grabbed the cat and threw her out. My brother survived -- he's 67 now.

In the mid-1930s my grandmother told me about a big bird picking up a toddler and carrying it off. People didn't believe it; they said the mother killed the baby. But years later, on television, I saw a big bird picking up a goat from a mountain trail. And in the past few years, a boa squeezed the life out of an infant, and rats killed a baby in Chicago. Don't assume any animal is safe.

Dr. Fox, you have a great weapon -- the newspaper with which to impart education and your knowledge and wisdom. Thanks for your commandments.

V.D., Fontana, Calif.

Whether it's true or not that some cats will suffocate babies trying to get milk out of their mouths, there are basic health reasons for putting a net over a baby's crib to keep the cat out.

Cats may have taken the fall for the sudden infant death syndrome in infants, and so the myth continues. However, cats will nurse and knead with their front paws and may be attracted to a baby by the smell of milk and by the infant's movements and warmth.

Cats can accidentally scratch a baby's face and limbs, thinking the flailing infant is a plaything. Cats can carry diseases like ringworm, toxoplasmosis and plague; and cats can carry fleas -- the bites of which can look like chicken pox in babies and be misdiagnosed.

So, I agree with you: Never leave an infant alone with another animal, and supervise all contact, making sure that the animal is healthy and gentle.

(I would like to hear from other readers on the issue or the experience of baby-suffocating cats. Please put the letter "C" on the outside of your envelope and send it to the address below.)

Dr. Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, 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.

(c)2002, United Feature Syndicate Inc.