DEAR JOAN: My heart breaks for my four-legged nephew. He's a wonderful basset hound and his parents overfeed him.
The dog is obese, and as you can imagine, this is not a good look for a basset hound, a breed that is already so low to the ground.
My in-laws feed him all kinds of people food, of course, along with his dog food. At dinner, my brother-in-law continuously slips food from his plate into the dog's mouth, the dog sitting right at the table awaiting this feeding. I want to jump up and scream, "What are you thinking?" But of course, I am an in-law and it is none of my business.
The good thing is that we live 3,000 miles apart. The bad thing is I'm really reluctant to visit very often.
Any advice for how I can better handle this without a confrontation with these people? I can't believe the vet doesn't hold them more accountable, but I guess he's just a vet and can't control the pet owners either.
DEAR CONCERNED: You have every right, in-law or not, to speak up for this dog that is being killed by love. I'm sure your in-laws aren't purposely setting out to harm the dog, but they are shortening his life with every bite.
Overfeeding pets is a growing problem. All of the maladies that come with human obesity are visited on our overweight pets -- high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and joint strain, and breathing problems. With the low-slung basset hound, the extra weight can cause spine damage.
All of your in-laws' indulgences are going to result in extravagant veterinary bills and needless suffering.
It's doubtful they are going to change just because you want them to. I've no doubt that they love the dog, but are in denial about what all that rich, fatty food is doing to him.
This obviously needs to stop. Just recently I learned of a dachshund that had weighed 77 pounds before being taken from his elderly owners and rescued by a woman in Portland, Ore. She just completed a trip around the country with the dog, named Obie, to show off his almost 50 pounds of weight loss and to draw attention to the dangers of overfeeding your pets.
Perhaps you can break the ice with your in-laws by sharing Obie's story with them at www.obiedog.com, and then writing them a heartfelt letter expressing your concern without being accusatory or scolding. If you are, they will react to that to justify ignoring the rest of the letter. Tell them you know they love their dog, but his health is suffering and for all of their sakes, they need to changes their habits.
Bottom line, however, is that they're the ones who can make the changes. All you can do is let them know about the dangers and hope they pay attention soon.
DEAR JOAN: It's probably time to remind people with pets to leave off ribbon or string when they wrap gifts.
My son's cat swallowed a short length of ribbon, which ended up in an emergency vet bill of $2,000 for X-rays and surgical removal, plus meds and follow-ups. A very expensive Christmas that could have been easily avoided.
DEAR LINDA: Excellent reminder. The holidays, with all of the decorations and rich foods, can be a dangerous time for our pets. Make sure your holiday home is pet-safe.