Dear Amy:

My husband and I live in a major city and own a home in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood, one that had a crime problem a few years ago but has improved considerably.

We love our home, and while we know we have to be careful (we have a security system, bars on certain windows -- normal city-dweller stuff), we've never been victimized.

Our home is a brief drive away from good restaurants and cultural institutions, and we have much shorter commutes than most people in metropolitan areas.

So, what's the problem? Certain of our friends and colleagues make very rude comments about our neighborhood, things such as, "You'd better get a dog!" or, "I can't visit you; I'm afraid to get out of my car in your area" -- even when we tell them that we've lived here without incident for almost four years.

How can we handle these remarks without seeming defensive or stooping to the level of the people who make them?

Happy in the City

One way to handle ignorant and thoughtless comments is to take the perpetrators to school, so to speak.

This isn't being defensive; it's being helpful.

When somebody disses your lifestyle or neighborhood, you can say, "Wow, I can tell you've never spent time in our neighborhood. We absolutely love it, and our property values are shooting up!"

Then you spread your happiness by entertaining people in your home. If people won't come because they're too "scared," then you get to quietly judge them for letting their ignorance get in the way of a good time.

Dear Amy:

Your advice to "J in Dallas" about the cat that scratched her child multiple times on the face was shockingly off base. The mother clearly felt that the cat posed a serious threat to her child and she should trust her instincts.

Her most important responsibility is to protect her children, and if that means taking the cat to the pound, so be it. A child's safety and well-being are far more important than any sentiment to a pet.

And lest you think I'm some cold-hearted meanie, you should know that my wife and I tearfully laid to rest our beloved 18-year-old dog last year. But if we thought for a moment that Barney would have ever hurt our kids, that dog would have been out the door in a heartbeat.

Kids Come Before Cats

If you read her letter carefully, you would note that this woman and her 1-year-old child were new to this blended family. The cat had no history of scratching other family members, and this led me to conclude that this woman was perhaps letting the baby crawl over to the cat and attempt to pet it, which, of course, she should never do.

I offered the writer a series of reasonable options in order for this family to peacefully coexist, which she claimed was her ultimate goal.

My sympathies about your dog. I know all too well how painful it is to say goodbye to our beloved pets. In addition to the wonderful memories they leave with us about the lives we share with them, animals have a lot to teach us about respect and restraint.

I am trying to pass along these lessons.

Dear Amy:

Regarding the groom who wants himself and his bride to smash cake into each other's faces at the reception, my advice is, don't do it!

I did wedding photography for many years, and I have seen marriages almost come to an end when the cake was smashed in the bride's face.

Worse was once when the bride did it to the groom without his knowing it was coming.

At one wedding, the bride got cake shoved up her nose and almost had to go to the emergency room to get her nose passages cleared out.

DeLayne in Wisconsin

I've received many letters from readers sharing horror stories about this appalling practice.

Many readers speculate on how long a marriage can possibly last when it starts out so stupidly.

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