DEAR AMY: New neighbors recently moved in next door. After only one week the wife asked me to take care of her cat and two kittens, which are outside animals. I did this for two weeks while she was away.

Once she returned she informed me and our other neighbor that she had gotten a large dog. She has the dog in a fenced dog area. She leaves often but doesn’t ask for me or the other neighbor to care for the dog or the cats. The dog stays outside by himself, howling and barking at everything that walks by. The cats wander the neighborhood, looking for food and companionship.

When we mentioned the loud barking to her she got a bark collar for the dog, which made us cringe, knowing what he would go through. She basically spends no time with the dog or the cats and is always away.

Should we say something to her about her pets and risk offending her? What else can we do to help these animals? -- Concerned Neighbor

DEAR CONCERNED: Don’t bother speaking to your neighbor. If you so much as make eye contact with her, she may be inspired to bring another animal into her household.

You should consider reporting her for animal neglect. The ASPCA has an informative page about how to recognize and report animal neglect or cruelty, including state-by-state guidelines: Also, contact your local humane society to learn about the local pet ownership rules, and procedures for reporting neglect in your town.

This is not a case of merely being disturbed by a barking dog. This is likely a case of neglect and you should follow through. These animals cannot advocate for themselves.

DEAR AMY: An in-law of mine is very racist. This individual rants and raves and most often these outbursts are politically charged. This individual even tells racist stories at family events, trying to get a laugh.

I have a young child and one on the way. I do not want my children exposed to this kind of ignorant behavior. I know this is a sensitive subject and I have spoken to this individual, my husband and his siblings about this person’s views. It is always shrugged off.

I believe that people are racist because they learn it. No one is born hating someone of a different race. I don’t necessarily want to keep my children away from this individual, so how can I cope? -- Oppressed

DEAR OPPRESSED: ’Tis the season to get together with our relatives — and sometimes said relatives are obnoxious, racist, annoying, rude, drunk, disorderly and so not funny.

As a parent, your job is not to inoculate your children against all of the slings, stupidity and insults of the world; it is to guide them toward your own values, while understanding that others don’t share them.

In the moment, you can express your own distaste for these remarks: “Uncle Buck, I really do not like it when you go there. Please don’t talk that way in front of the kids.”

As your children get older, they will become discerning, just as you are. You can say to them, “I don’t like it when Uncle Buck gets this way and says unkind things. But I can’t control him. I just want to make sure you realize that he is wrong and that we do not talk that way in our family.”

DEAR AMY: “Real Daughter” was bothered when she heard someone introducing a daughter as her “stepdaughter.” Her answer revealed her belief that being a “step” is a bad thing.

Your take on this was right on. I am a stepdaughter in a happily blended second marriage. Sometimes I introduce my father and stepmother as “my parents.” Sometimes my stepmother introduces me as “my daughter.” But she and I both know that I am a “real daughter” to another mother and there are times when she is sensitive to that and introduces me as her stepdaughter. Thank you for clarifying that this is not a sign of disrespect. -- Stepdaughter

DEAR STEPDAUGHTER: There are nuances to this that in the “real” world must be acknowledged.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune