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by Abigail Van Buren

Man's Best Friend Soothes Aching Hearts, Anxious Minds

DEAR ABBY: Since Sept. 11, I have been re-evaluating my life. It has been a traumatic time.

We all need compliments, humor, and a reconnection to our inner selves. I can nurture others with a smile, a phone call, an invitation to go out for coffee, or allow a stranger to pet my dog.

What a wonderful equalizer my dog is. I conjure up the image of a dog lying in front of a warm fireplace, his expression quietly conveying calm and reassurance. I believe we can reduce our anxiety by creating peace in our minds and hearts. –- R.C. DUNCAN, COTTONWOOD, ARIZ.

DEAR R.C.: Being a nurturer can be as simple as reminding ourselves that our needs do not always come first. I love the mental image of the dog in front of the fireplace to symbolize peace and reassurance. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I want your readers to know that there are no bad dogs –- only bad owners. Contrary to recent press coverage, rottweilers are loyal, hardworking dogs that originated in Germany. Here in the United States, they are used extensively by the police and have received awards for their assistance.

I had the privilege of owning a rottweiler named Otto for nine years. He was trained to be loving and obedient -– not to attack.

I am epileptic and can attest to Otto's loving loyalty. Because of his acute sensitivity, he sensed exactly when I was going to have a seizure. Otto would stay next to me to protect me, allowing only close family or friends to come near. He would gently lick my face until I regained consciousness and recovered from my attack. Even after my recovery, Otto would never be more than a few feet away from me.

My loyal 160-pound friend passed away last year due to cancer. I will never be able to fill the void in my heart.

Abby, these gentle and beautiful dogs do not get the recognition they deserve for the good they do. We shouldn't condemn a marvelous breed of animal for the malicious and abusive training of a few bad owners. –- PATRICK J. KENDRICK, MORTON GROVE, ILL.

DEAR PATRICK: I agree. Please accept my condolences for the loss of your stalwart guardian.

No one should underestimate the ability of dogs (or cats) to help their owners reclaim good health. A 1980 study at the University of Maryland showed that heart attack sufferers who owned pets were four times more likely to be alive a year later than people who were not pet owners. They also had shorter hospital stays because they wanted to get home to their pets. Further, they took less medication for cholesterol and high blood pressure, possibly because those who owned dogs were more active.

Arthritis sufferers, cancer patients, and those suffering from depression or chronic pain also benefit from having pets.

I just finished a wonderfully readable and informative book, "The Healing Power of Pets," by Dr. Marty Becker and Danelle Morton. It is published by Hyperion, and it's now available in bookstores. It made me laugh, it made me cry, but most of all it educated me about a benefit of pet ownership I had been unaware of before.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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