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Q: How do you stop a big Labrador from barking at night? We live in the country and don’t like the noise. I’m 80, and I can’t deal with an elephant in our small house, so we keep the dog outside. I know there are rabbits and deer outside at night, which must trigger the barking. What should we do? – J.S., Rutherfordton, N.C.

A: Outdoors, without supervision, you can’t honestly expect your dog not to bark. It’s likely your dog is bored and entertains himself by barking. Perhaps he’s barking at wildlife, as you suggest.

Many Labs actually need a fair amount of exercise. If you’re unable to play fetch, perhaps you could hire a neighbor or dog trainer to simply give your dog more to do during the day so he’s tuckered out at night.

My bet is, your Lab may, in part, be barking for your attention. I doubt he wants to sleep outdoors. Some dogs don’t mind at all, but most simply want to be with us.

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Q: With the number of impoverished children in America and around the world, how can you support spending money on pets? I guess that’s America: Let children starve while you buy $100 dog collars. Your values are totally out of whack. – C.C., Cyberspace

A: Pets augment our lives. As far as I know, the U.S. government doesn’t mandate “Get a pet,” yet 68 percent of all households in America have at least one pet (according to American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 2013-2014). In fact, there are more pets than children in this country (U.S. Census Bureau). That means a heck of a lot of folks have made a choice to share their lives with dogs and cats, parrots, ferrets, Guinea pigs, fish, rabbits and other critters.

Animals give us so much. I could write a book about this, and others have. At least when it comes to living with dogs and cats, at the top of the list is unconditional love. Pets make us feel good. Science has repeatedly demonstrated how being with a pet is healthful. Petting a dog or a cat, for example, can lower cortisol, a hormone associated with stress; help patients recover from heart attacks and strokes – and might even lessen the chances of such medical events occurring in the first place.

For many people, particularly seniors, companion animals ease at least some of the pain of loneliness. A pet can provide a reason for getting up in the morning.

Even watching fish takes our minds to another place, which is why you see aquariums in settings ranging from dentist offices to nursing homes.

Of course, it’s tragic that children in this country (or anywhere on the planet) are suffering, but whether people have pets or not seems to me to have little to do with the war on poverty. As for how people spend their money, I don’t believe that’s my business or yours.

Personally, I agree that pets don’t need $100 collars. However, I’m uncertain how you know that those same people would spend $100 to help impoverished children.

As for my values, we know that children who grow up with pets are more likely to be more empathetic as adults, just one of the many benefits of having a pet. In fact, I argue that animals have much to teach all of us, including not to be so judgmental!

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.”