Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a stray female cat. She was spayed at the age of 6 months. She will not come close to me and runs and hides when she sees me coming. When I put her food down and leave the room, she will eat. We had to trap her and take her to the veterinarian for surgery, and she's been in our home since then. Please advise if this may be a feral cat, and if her behavior might be modified so she'll accept my family and me.

-- M.B., Norfolk

Your poor cat probably had insufficient human contact early in life, which is necessary to develop a close social bond. But she may still come around.

First, keep her in the same room with you as much as possible, with access to another room or quiet corner for her litter box. Don't force yourself on her. Purchase a couple of catnip-stuffed toys. Consider adopting a healthy, friendly cat that may well bring her out of her shell.

Your veterinarian could also prescribe Valium for two to three weeks -- a small, regular dose could help her overcome her fear and begin to slowly bond with you.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My dog has lost his "singer." Jakardo is a 7-year-old Siberian husky. He would sing (howl) on command, and often get into singing contests with my husband, sons and friends.

He always had to be the loudest. Neighbors would mistake him for the monthly test of the air-raid siren.

My husband unexpectedly went into the hospital last month for about 10 days, and even though he is now home, Jakardo will not sing.

No matter what treat is offered him, or who howls to get him going, he will not utter a sound. I think he is mad at all of us for Dad going away.

How can we get him happy again?

-- C.L., Sterling Heights, Mich.

Your dog's spirit has been injured, and he fears your spouse may go away again. Some animals, especially dogs, have prescience, so I hope your husband goes in for an immediate checkup. You, too, may be worrying about your husband, and that would certainly affect your dog. Dogs are empathetic, after all.

So, lighten up with a harmonica or a recording of wolves howling -- that could spark Jakardo's soul so he can sing to the sky and bring heaven down where Earth abides.

Dear Dr. Fox:

What would cause a cat to make a howling sound? I moved here three months ago with two neutered 11-year-old sibling cats, a male and a female. Recently, the male has started howling. The veterinarian can't find any apparent health reason, and it doesn't seem to be hunger-related. If I call him or go find him and pick him up, he stops.

-- C.D., Falls Church

Older animals suffering from diminishing faculties can become more restless and anxious. This may be what's happening with your cat, compounded by the disorientation and insecurity associated with being in a new place.

So give your cats lots of reassurance and tender loving care. Have your veterinarian double-check with another examination to rule out any physical cause of distress, such as chronic cystitis, hyperactive thyroid or dental disease. And consider putting the cat on anti-anxiety medication for three to four weeks to help him feel more secure.

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