DEAR ABBY: Many years ago, our neighbor owned a St. Bernard that was usually tied up outside the house. It was teased almost daily by another neighbor's vicious child, until it turned mean. (St. Bernards by nature are very friendly dogs.)
One day the dog got loose and bit my 10-year-old brother as he was walking home from school. The animal's jaws surrounded my brother's upper thigh completely, and the puncture wounds were half an inch deep.
Luckily, my brother did not develop tetanus or any other complications, and he recovered completely, with only some scars to show for the experience. The same can't be said for the dog or the mean neighbor child. The child grew up to be a nasty adult who is now in prison. The dog eventually was euthanized -- absolutely not at my family's request. We were angry at the horrible boy, not the poor dog.
Children who torture animals are likely to grow into criminal adults, so parents should teach their children at an early age to be kind to animals as well as people. -- SEEN IT IN SEATTLE
DEAR SEEN IT: Persistent cruelty to animals warrants a thorough evaluation by a psychiatrist or psychologist with expertise in children to determine the cause -- and the sooner the better.
I checked with child psychiatrist Lori Zukerman, M.D., in Los Angeles, who confirmed that persistent teasing of a confined and helpless animal by a child should be of concern to parents, because it may be a symptom of a psychiatric illness such as conduct disorder.
Conduct disorder is characterized by anti-social behavior and is frequently associated with poor self-esteem, poor frustration tolerance, lack of empathy, risk-taking behaviors, and impairments in daily functioning and relationships.
Studies suggest that many children with conduct disorder will have a diagnosis of anti-social personality as adults and/or they will be at risk for mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance abuse in adulthood.
DEAR ABBY: Last summer when our son was 13 months old, we visited my in-laws in another state. While there, we went out to their lake place, where they keep an older, somewhat rundown boat. After dinner, my father-in-law, who had consumed a couple of beers, wanted us all to hop in the boat and go for a spin around the lake.
Since there was no infant life jacket available (the type with a special neck support that is meant to keep an infant's head above water), I refused. My father-in-law became infuriated and proceeded to berate me because none of the other daughters-in-law with small children had a problem with taking their kids in the boat without life jackets. My husband supported my position; however, since then my father-in-law has been rude and condescending toward me.
Given the fact that this man had a couple of drinks and the boat is old, I just didn't want to take any chances. Every year we hear about boating accidents where people might have survived if they had been wearing a life jacket. Was I out of line? And what do I do about my father-in-law? -- CAREFUL MOM IN WASHINGTON
DEAR CAREFUL: You were not out of line. You were behaving the way a conscientious parent should. Even if your father-in-law had an infant life jacket, you should never get in a boat navigated by someone who has been drinking.
Your father-in-law was talking through his beer and behaving like a spoiled child. You can't change him -- he is the only person who can do that. Keep your distance until he cleans up his act and apologizes.
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, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600