Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

DOWN-SHIFTING

Universal Press Syndicate

Big sports-utility vehicles have been the dog-haulers of choice for years, along with minivans. But with gas prices so high, SUV sales are stalled as people look for smaller vehicles. If you can't fit your St. Bernard comfortably into a Smart Car, are there still choices for you?

You bet.

The Pet Connection's DogCars.com Web site has already been reviewing vehicles with an eye toward how they function for people who don't like leaving their dogs behind. We looked over the vehicles we've driven and came up with "Five and 25" -- five (actually six with a tie) models with a base price of less than $25,000 and a fuel-economy rating of close to or exceeding 25 mpg on the highway.

These models all have rear-hatch entries, fold-flat seats and relatively roomy cargo areas. Fuel economy ratings, cargo capacity and base price are noted, as well as alternative vehicles that almost made the list and should be considered as well.

-- Subaru Forester (20/26 mpg, 68.3 cubic feet, $19,995): All new and better than ever, with lots of room for dogs. The Forester has long been a favorite among dog lovers who want a surefooted ride but don't want a large SUV. The redesign should assure the Forester's continued popularity. (Also check out: Suzuki Forenza wagon and Volkswagen Passat wagon.)

-- Pontiac Vibe (26/32 mpg, 49.4 cubic feet, $15,895) and Honda Fit (28/34 mpg, 41.9 cubic feet, $13,950): We just couldn't pick a winner when comparing these two small hatchbacks, we liked them so much. The Vibe (which is also sold as the Toyota Matrix) is amazingly capacious -- so much so, it's almost like a magic act to see how much you can fit into it. The Fit is a winner on price and fuel economy, but not as roomy. (Also check out: Kia Rondo.)

-- Scion xB (22/28 mpg, 69.9 cubic feet, $16,600): No one's on the fence about the Scion xB. You either love the look or hate it, and the same was true of the earlier incarnation of the quirky Toyota-made box with wheels. We like it -- lots -- and so did the pile of dogs we put in it. Some people think the recent redesign made the vehicle less distinctive, but it also made it bigger, a plus when you have big dogs. (Also check out: Honda Element, perennial DogCars.com favorite edged out by a thin whisker here.)

-- Saturn Vue crossover (19/26 mpg, 56.4 cubic feet, $24,370): Most expensive of our choices, but such a comfortable ride for man and beast we just couldn't leave it out, especially since some of our best dog-friends love theirs so much. Great if you have both kids and dogs. (Also check out: The Saturn Vue hybrid. We liked the hybrid version a great deal and liked the 26/32 mpg even more. But the base price, $26,270, was beyond our set limit.)

-- Dodge Grand Caravan (17/24 mpg, 140.6 cubic feet, $22,470): The recently remodeled Dodge Grand Caravan falls just a little short of the 25 mpg fuel economy standard we were shooting for. But if you have a lot of dogs and a lot of gear, you're going to need the space. The Caravan has tons of room and a comfortable ride, with decent fuel economy. The company that created the minivan still does it right. (Also check out: The "minivanish" Mazda 5 crossover.)

Don't forget to crate or harness your dog for safety before you hit the road, no matter what you're driving.

(The Pet Connection's DogCars.com editor Keith Turner contributed this story.)

Q&A

New home for a neighbor's cat

Q: My next-door neighbor died, leaving behind her cat. The woman's daughter planned to take the cat to the pound, so Sophie is now living in my garage. My son is allergic to cats, so this isn't a long-term solution. Sophie is a nice cat, but no one wants her and we can't keep her forever. Do you have any suggestions? -- K.R., via e-mail

A: Since you seem willing to care for this cat for a while, I'd suggest you work to keep her healthy, friendly and well-behaved, and be patient while looking for a home. Many people are willing to take (and even prefer) adult cats, and your odds of finding such takers will improve when "kitten season" tails off in late fall.

Have a veterinarian check out the cat and bring her vaccinations up to date, if necessary. If Sophie's not spayed, get that done as well. You'll want to ask a small adoption fee for her to deter people who collect animals for unsavory purposes. So you'll be offering her "vet-checked, spayed and up-to-date on shots," with the adoption fee advertised as covering some of that cost -- a ready-to-adopt bargain!

Take a really cute picture of her and make up an attractive flier, briefly stressing the cat's advantages (sweet nature, litter-box trained, vet-checked, etc.) and her sad story (people naturally gravitate to animals with a difficult history).

Post the fliers everywhere you can: bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and veterinary hospitals. Give some to your friends and family to post, too. Talk up the cat and her story, at least briefly, with everyone you know. Even people who don't like cats (or don't want one) may know someone who is looking for a pet. Take out an ad in the newspaper, and post online at craigslist.org and other sites.

Touch base with all the non-profit feline rescue groups and shelters in your area. Some groups may be able to take your cat, if you are willing to wait for an opening in a foster home. At the very least, they may be willing to put Sophie on their Web site or fliers, especially after kitten season.

Check out prospective adopters thoroughly. If you place this cat into a bad home, you haven't done her any favors. Make sure the person who wants to adopt has a landlord's permission to have a pet, if they're renting.

Ask about previous pets. The person who has had a lot of pets who disappeared, died young or were given away is probably not your best choice. A veterinary reference is useful as well. -- Gina Spadafori

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Dachshunds come in many varieties

-- Love dachshunds? Veterinarians like to say these popular short-legged dogs are "half a dog high and two dogs long." While most people think of a brownish-red, shorthaired dog when they think "dachshunds," the American Kennel Club in fact recognizes two sizes (standard and miniature) and two additional coat types, wirehaired and longhaired. As for colors, some long-coated dachshunds have fur as red as an Irish setter's, and other combinations are acceptable, too.

-- "Biomimicry" borrows nature's design ideas and applies them to solve human challenges. Reader's Digest reports that consulting biologists looked to the African reed frog, a champion in keeping cool in hot temperatures, to design Nike apparel to keep Olympic athletes cool this month. Other researchers looked at how woodpeckers can hammer away at trees without harming themselves, in order to create impact-resistant cars. And what about the humpback whale? The whale's flipper has scalloped edges to calm turbulence, a design mimicked by a new kind of wind turbine that can rotate in very low wind.

-- The show must go on, and Sandy sure knew it. The canine star of the long-running Broadway hit "Annie!" saw a lot of tomorrows, playing the entire run from 1977 to 1983 -- more than 2,000 performances. The friendly fuzzbutt (probably an Airedale-setter mix) came from a shelter in Connecticut. After all those curtain calls, the dog retired to the comfortable life befitting such a star, and died in 1990 at the grand old age of 16.

-- Looking to astound others with your knowledge of trivia? Here are a few fast facts: A crocodile can't stick his tongue out. A shrimp's heart is in his head. It's physically impossible for pigs to look up. Horses can't vomit. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

THE SCOOP

What's in a name? The man behind the breed

A handful of dog breeds were named for people. Louis Dobermann, a German tax collector in the mid-19th century, developed the elegant and protective breed that bears his name to, in the words of Britain's Kennel Club, "protect him and ... 'encourage' slow payers." (In the United States, the final "n" on "Dobermann" was dropped long ago.)

The Parson Russell terrier -- more commonly known as the Jack Russell -- was named after the Rev. John Russell, a Victorian-era clergyman with a fondness for working terriers. There's also the Gordon setter, named after one of the Dukes of Gordon.

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel was named after King Charles II, albeit centuries after his death, since the breed was developed by fanciers in England after World War II.

Arguably, you can say that the St. Bernard was named after a person, but really, probably more after the monastery where the dogs became famous for their heroic rescue efforts. (No longer practiced, by the way: The monastery now "borrows" St. Bernards from nearby towns for tourist season but doesn't keep any otherwise.)

There's also the Dandie Dinmont terrier, which isn't named for a real person at all, but rather after a character in Sir Walter Scott's "Guy Mannering."

There's something else fairly unusual about the long-bodied, short-legged dog with a puff of fur on his head and whiskers on his muzzle: Dandies are so rare that the breed is considered on the verge of extinction. Every year, more pandas are born than Dandies. -- Gina Spadafori and Dr. Marty Becker

BY THE NUMBERS

Protect your dog from poisoning

The best way to protect your dog from poisoning is to make sure you keep all such hazards away from him. For tips on protecting your pet, visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center Web site (www.aspca.org/apcc). According to the APCC, these are the top five household poisoning hazards:

1. Human drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter

2. Pesticides and herbicides

3. Foods, most notably chocolate

4. Toxic plants

5. Veterinary drugs

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Make learning fun with 'pingpong'

Play games with your pet to keep good behavior interesting and fun, and to practice what your dog already knows.

For example, play "pet pingpong" in a closed hallway, with one person at each end, when your dog is hungry. Start the game with each person taking turns calling the dog for a treat. As the game progresses, ask your dog to "sit," "shake" or "lie down" for the treat.

As you raise the bar, increase your praise. Keep your dog guessing. Give a treat quickly for coming one time, and then randomly ask for two or three behaviors before the treat at other times. Keep the game brief and end on a high note.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Roland Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

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