Dr. Wallace:

Both of my parents smoke and so does my grandmother, and they smoke in our house. Whenever they light up, I go outside and whenever I can, I take my cat with me. I also have a pet canary, but it stays in the house. Does secondhand smoke hurt pets? My grandmother says no.

— Karen, Monmouth, Ill.

Karen: Pets are extremely vulnerable to secondhand tobacco smoke and may suffer from a runny nose, throat irritations and sneezing. There is a chance that even a normal, healthy pet can become allergic to cigarette smoke, increasing its chances of getting lung cancer. Caged pets such as hamsters and birds are especially prone to respiratory trouble. Whenever possible, open the windows to ventilate your house so your pets can get plenty of fresh, smoke-free air.

Dr. Wallace: If you ever need a succinct way to describe the effectiveness of seatbelts, you might consider what a 28-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol once said in a speech I went to hear. His words really stayed with me: “I’ve seen many dead bodies on the road at accident scenes, but I have never unbuckled a dead body.”

I now always wear a seatbelt!

— Sherry,

Daytona Beach, Fla.

Sherry: Thanks for the graphic reminder to buckle up! A veteran highway patrolman should know what he’s talking about.

Dr. Wallace: I just finished reading a letter from Cindy in Indiana. Her parents were divorced and she was living with her mother and never had contact with her father. Her mother told her not to contact him because she thought it was his job to make contact with her.

I’d like to share my own experience in the same situation with your teen readers and I hope they will benefit from it. When I was only 1-year-old my parents got a divorce. My father stayed in contact with me regularly until I was 8 when his visits became less frequent. He eventually stopped calling and coming to see me entirely.

I felt that since he was my father that it was his responsibility to keep in touch with me. My mother never discouraged me from calling or writing to him, but she never really suggested it either. I’m 16 now and I haven’t seen him since I was 12. My advice to Cindy is to go ahead and contact your father immediately by letter or by phone! And when you reach him, tell him that you love him and miss him.

I do have a wonderful stepfather, but sometimes I miss my real father and I can’t help but think that if I had made a little more effort my father and I would have been closer.

My father missed my first leading role in my school play, teaching me to drive and get my driver’s license, and most of all, he missed out on knowing a pretty great daughter. My stepfather is wonderful and I love him very much, but I still wonder about the man who should be very close to me, but is only a stranger today.

— Laurie, Dallas, Tex.

Laurie: Thanks for sharing your experience with our teen readers. Your advice is excellent. Much too often we allow pride or some other silly hang-up to keep us from renewing friendships or being close to loved ones. The one bearing the olive branch shows strength, not weakness!

— Write to Dr. Wallace at rwallace@galesburg.net.