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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We have a small house, and family and friends are always welcome. We also have six cats, and their care and comfort are paramount. We keep our cats separated so they don't fight, so two cats occupy what used to be our guest room. We have explained this to overnight guests, several of whom are allergic to cats or don't like them, and they insist "everything will be fine." They then refuse to let the cats into the room during the day, while our distressed feline family members howl and claw the door.

There are simple things that must be done when living with cats, like making sure they don't run outside (they are all indoor cats), keeping toilet lids down and breakable things out of their reach. Our guests don't seem to care and they don't comply. Frankly, I wouldn't care if the cats took their jewelry, but I would care if one of them choked on it.

Why is this so hard to understand? Our cats need care and consideration; they are not disposable furry houseplants. To be fair, we visit with these petless folks, so we can't ask them not to stay with us. I've even tried putting Post-it notes around the house, reminding guests to keep doors and toilet lids closed, etc. They reacted like they thought I was rude! How do we handle this politely so there are no hurt feelings? -- NEW ENGLAND CAT LOVER

DEAR CAT LOVER: It's time to end the tradition of staying in each other's homes. There will be fewer hurt feelings all the way around -- your pets included -- if, when you visit these folks you stay someplace other than in their home and suggest to them that they do likewise. This doesn't mean you won't see and entertain them -- it only means they won't be subject to your house rules, which clearly are not acceptable to them.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been having the roughest year of our marriage, and we are divorcing. He has started a new relationship with a woman who is 14 years younger than he is, and he takes our 5-year-old to her house. I feel it is inappropriate because who knows if this relationship will last?

My husband and I are still living together. He's in the basement; I'm upstairs. I don't think it's wise for him to take our child on picnics and play dates at her house. I have tried to have a conversation about boundaries and doing what's best for our daughter, and I don't know what his next move will be. Living with the young lady? What should I do next? -- MOVING ON

DEAR MOVING ON: There is a commonsense rule that parents who are divorcing should not introduce a child to the new partner until it's clear the relationship will be long-lasting. At this point, you can't control to whom your husband introduces your little girl. This is a conversation you should be having with the attorney who is arranging your divorce. If something presents a danger to your child, the lawyer may be able to help you put a stop to it.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $8 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)