DEAR JOAN: This is probably a good time to remind people who have outside pets that they have special needs.
It's important to give them protection from the cold and the rain.
Please let people know that the proper size doghouse is important. A small dog cannot keep itself warm in a house for a large dog.
Can you give us some guidelines on the proper housing for dogs that are kept outside?
DEAR D.M.: You've already done a pretty good job at that, but I'll see what I can add.
It is important to have the right-sized doghouse for your pal. Even if you bring the dogs in at night, they need a place to get out of the cold -- or the heat, in the summer -- if they spend a lot of time outdoors during the day.
The general guideline is to get a doghouse that is just big enough. The dog should be able to easily get inside and have enough room to turn around and lie down.
Most dogs like to be comfy and cozy, so you're not really doing them a favor by buying larger than they need. In the winter, a too-big doghouse can be a detriment as the house is heated by the dog's own body temperature. Asking a Chihuahua to heat a house for a Great Dane would be impossible.
On the other hand, a larger house is a benefit in the summer as it won't get too warm from the dog's body heat and gives them space to stretch out.
Fortunately, our winters are pretty mild so getting a slightly larger house will work OK with any season. Or you could be extravagant and have both a summer and winter home.
Don't forget about the cats. I'm actually a huge advocate of keeping cats indoors. They live longer, they are in better health, and they don't kill birds, which is their natural instinct. But I know a lot of people think cats need to roam free, so if you're of that mind, please set up a shelter or cozy spot for your cat to get out of the rain, keep warm and to escape from the many dangers that lurk out there.
There are houses for cats, or use a small doghouse. Put in some warm blankets for them to curl up on.
Make sure your cats and dogs are well-fed, which will help them stave off the cold, and that they have access to fresh water.
Don't leave the food out, though, because then you'll be attracting other creatures to your yard.
DEAR JOAN: The past couple of weeks I have heard a familiar sound every now and then from my backyard. I was outside this morning and this huge bird flew over low, landed in my neighbor's tree and sat there a while.
I got a very close look through my binoculars and it sure looks like an immature bald eagle. Have you heard of more sightings in the Danville-Blackhawk area?
DEAR ERWIN: It could very well be. I checked with birders in the area and they say there always are a few young eagles in that area. You were treated to a great sight.
It's always great to include our pets in the holiday gatherings and traditions.
Take a picture of your beloved pet involved in the activities -- sitting on Santa's lap, "helping" to wrap presents, wearing their best holiday finery -- and send it to me.
I'll put together a slideshow for later this month. I already have a special Pinterest board set up. You can view it at www.pinterest.com/gardenjoan.
Contact Joan Morris at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.