Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Is it possible to have a family pet problem without a solution? I live in Virginia. Several years ago my parents retired to Florida after living here for many years.

The problem is they insist on visiting us with their cat and dog several times a year for weeks at a time. At first we accepted this arrangement despite allergies to animals and the dog having regular "accidents" in the house. It has been a sore subject between my husband and me, because he has never been a "pet person."

We recently purchased a new home and have invested in new carpeting. We have been honest with my parents and told them that while we welcome them anytime, to please make other arrangements for their pets.

They are furious about our decision, criticizing us for valuing belongings over family, threatening to never visit our children, and accusing us of "kicking them out." They will never put their animals in kennels.

Are they asking too much of us, or have we unfairly changed the rules on them, as they claim? -- CONFUSED IN RICHMOND

DEAR CONFUSED: People are emotional about their pets and compromise is difficult. On their next visit, encourage your parents to stay at a motel or hotel that accepts pets. Even if you must share the cost of their lodging, it will probably be cheaper than carpet cleaning and the wear and tear on your new home.

DEAR ABBY: For many years I have regarded your column as a neutral observer of human problems. One recurring topic that appears concerns "giving the bride away" at a wedding ceremony. The custom exists worldwide in various ethnic groups.

Historically the custom is based on the centuries-old concept of a woman (daughter) being the property or chattel of the male head of the family (father). It precedes even Biblical practices.

In our contemporary strides for gender equality, the practice hardly seems necessary at a wedding. In all states, a man and a woman enter into a contractual union essentially and legally based on their individual free-will choice. They give themselves to each other. It's not a matter of giving away a female piece of property.

In 16 years I performed more than 25,000 civil ceremonies for couples from 50 states and 81 countries. I rarely permitted the giving away of a bride, making exceptions based on foreign practices. To me, the "giving away" was similar to selling a piece of real estate. I could not, and do not, accept the practice among contemporary brides born in the U.S.A. -- "MARRYIN' SAM" FROM NEVADA

DEAR "MARRYIN' SAM": Your letter is sure to raise the eyebrows of many brides-to-be, although it may not diminish their desire to be "given in marriage" by their fathers. Although the contemporary bride in reality gives herself to her husband, one look through a bridal magazine should be a clue to how she clings to tradition.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600