DEAR JOAN: I have a 4½-year-old bichon. She is very affectionate with me and to my wife, who passed away almost a year ago. She is not unfriendly to other people, but she is indifferent to everyone but me.
When I have been out for a few hours, she goes bonkers when I come home. She jumps up into my arms, licks my face, cries and carries on as if I've been gone a month. She is much more that way since my wife died.
My wife had two boys from a previous marriage, but they are adults and never lived with us. They live some distance away and may have met GiGi, the dog, once or twice in her life. She treated them the same way she treated any stranger, with complete indifference. But that was before my wife died.
One of her sons stopped in the other day for a few minutes while he was on a trip to the area. I couldn't believe the way GiGi treated him. The dog was all over him. She cried and jumped on him, and when he sat down she crawled on top of him and licked his face. I finally had to go pick her up and hold her until he left.
I can't figure what made her act that way. Is it possible that the dog could somehow sense my wife's DNA in him? That seems ridiculous, but I can think of no other answer.
DEAR CARL: The idea that GiGi can detect her "mom's" DNA is not as far-fetched as it sounds. She probably isn't smelling things down to the molecular level, but she probably smells something that reminds her of your wife.
Dogs may have a smaller brain than humans, but their sense of smell is astounding. We can sniff the air and determine that we're having pizza for dinner. A dog can sniff the air and smell every ingredient in that pizza, down to the flour in the crust. That's what makes them so good at tracking people and finding illegal drugs and explosives.
GiGi might not be bloodhound material, but she has a great nose.
She probably misses your wife as much as you do and is concerned that when you leave, you might not return, either.
My little rescue dog became clingy after I returned from a two-week vacation. He now steals my socks from the laundry while I'm at work, just to have the scent of me close to him. If you have something of your wife's that still has her scent, Gigi might like to have it with her.
DEAR JOAN: I hope you can help me. We apparently have been adopted by a "cat from hell" since we had to put our dog down two months ago.
He does not come inside even though he meows at the door. But when you go outside to sit, he comes up to you and rubs against your leg, purring. OK fine, but when you start to walk around the yard, he grabs hold of your ankle and ends up drawing blood.
If I want to go outside now I take a rake and a squirt bottle just for protection. How can I keep this cat from grabbing on to us and scratching us so badly?
Dog lover forever
DEAR DOG LOVER: You don't say how old the cat is, but he likely is lonely and just wants to play. Unfortunately, cats don't always play gently.
When you go out to sit with him, bring some toys and spend the time playing. If he jumps on your leg when stand up, reprimand him, say no and give him a squirt with the bottle. A second cat might help by giving him a more willing playmate. You might also invest in a pair of combat boots.
Check out the slideshow at www.mercurynews.com/pets-animals.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.