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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am writing to tell your readers to always consult an attorney when dealing with paternity issues.

Out of the blue, we were hit with a suit to pay support for a child who is 12 years old. The woman listed as the mother was someone my husband had dated for one week. Needless to say, he was stunned. The state wanted back support to the tune of $15,000, plus future support and medical insurance. My husband didn't know what to think, but I was fighting mad. We have a child of our own and another on the way.

I contacted an attorney in the state where the suit had been filed to learn what our rights were. He told us to insist on a paternity test. The state readily agreed (they were sure my husband was the father), and they even paid for the test.

The test was done and we waited. A couple of months later, we received a letter telling us that my husband was not the father, and the lawsuit was dismissed.

We were greatly relieved, but my heart breaks for the child who has been lied to for 12 years about who his father is.

Please urge your readers to insist on a paternity test. Regardless of how it turns out, everyone needs to know the truth. -- PUT TO THE TEST IN PORTLAND, ORE.

DEAR PUT: If a man is asked to support a child he is not sure is his, he should insist on a paternity test. This test is the only way to establish that a man is (or is not) the biological father.

An attorney is always helpful when dealing with paternity issues, but not always necessary. Your physician can refer you to a laboratory that performs paternity (or parentage) testing.

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I are retired senior citizens. We occasionally like to take short trips, and we don't have to answer to anyone or worry about anything when we leave home.

On our recent anniversary (45th), our daughter and her family gave us a housebroken poodle, which they had purchased for themselves two months ago. (They live only two houses from us, so we knew about the dog and thought she was adorable.)

When my daughter gave us the dog, I told her I absolutely did not want the responsibility. I was really upset and made myself quite clear. Well, my wife, just to keep peace in the family, said that she would take care of the dog, so we kept her. And guess who is taking care of her?

Abby, was I wrong about the way I felt -- and still feel? My wife thinks that there wasn't anything wrong with giving us this unexpected gift, but I am about ready to say, "It's either the dog or me!"

Please tell me what you think about this, but do not use my name, initials or location. -- IN THE DOGHOUSE

DEAR IN THE DOGHOUSE: Your wife had no business accepting the dog, knowing that you did not want the responsibility of caring for a pet. Ask your veterinarian if he or she knows a family who would like to adopt your adorable poodle.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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