Dear Abby: I spent the afternoon running errands. As I left the shopping center, I saw a young couple with a baby and a toddler holding a sign requesting help with food, as the husband had just been laid off. I had no cash with me, so I stopped and offered them our family’s dinner – a jar of spaghetti sauce, a pound of ground beef, a box of dried spaghetti, fruit cups that my children usually take to school for treats.

The couple declined my generosity. Instead, the man suggested that I should go to a nearby ATM and withdraw cash to donate to them because they preferred to select their own groceries and pay their phone bills. What are your thoughts on this?

– Genuinely Puzzled in Austin, Texas

Dear Puzzled: What happened is a shame. Some families are truly in need and should be guided to a shelter so they can receive help getting back on their feet. However, in some cities you see the same people on the same streets for long periods of time. They have staked out their “turf,” and because the money they are given is tax-free, some of them are doing quite well. In your case, the couple you saw holding the sign may have been professional panhandlers, and the children may have been “borrowed.”

Fighting over tortoise

Dear Abby: My husband and I have been separated for a year and I have filed for divorce. We have reached an agreement about everything except one thing: our tortoise. We got Herbert as a baby that fit into the palm of my hand. Herbert is now 9, very large and lives in the backyard in a “doghouse” structure.

The problem is, my husband still wants to see Herbert. I just don’t want him here. I’d really like to know your thoughts.

– Nicole in Sanford, Fla.

Dear Nicole: Why not consider shared custody? If your husband can provide a safe place for the tortoise to stay, you could work out an agreement so that you could exchange your “kid” at a neutral place – such as your veterinarian’s office – and you wouldn’t have to see your husband and vice versa.