Current Events in June 2007

Browse Current Events by year


Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Wal-Mart Plans Its Own Debit Card

    Wal-Mart may have abandoned plans to open its own bank, but the retail giant hasnt given up on financial services. The company has announced plans to offer a prepaid Visa debit card, called the MoneyCard.

    Customers without credit cards or checking accounts will be able to reload money into their account and use the card like a normal debit card.

    Customers will be able to reload their cards at over 1,000 Wal-Mart MoneyCenters located in about a quarter of Wal-Marts stores, by the end of 2008. The cards will be good anywhere Visa is accepted, as well as at ATMs, the company said.

    Many of our customers are paying too much, traveling too far and not being well served, said Jane Thompson, president of Wal-Mart financial services. But they still need to pay their bills, cash their checks and transfer money. Were offering them a safe place and a card to help them manage their money. Weve seen firsthand what a difference that can make. It changes lives.

    Wal-Mart says it currently conducts more than two million money services transactions each week. It estimates that last year, customers who used Wal-Marts services saved an average of $450 per year, or almost $40 per month.

    The $40 our customers save each month can grow to become the down payment on a house or help pay for a childs college education, said Thompson. Thats our goal to help our customers prepare and save for the future by giving them access to greater financial opportunities.

    The service to customers is not free. Consumers will pay an upfront fee of $8.94 to purchase and activate the card, then pay a monthly $4.94 maintenance fee. The maintenance fee can be avoided if consumers deposit at least $1,000 a month into their card account.

    The fees are cheaper than many consumers would pay for a low-balance checking account.

    Wal-Mart estimates that 20 percent of its current customers do not have a checking account and are prospects for its MoneyCard.

    Wal-Mart Plans Its Own Debit Card...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      More Toxins Found in Children of Smokers

      One more reason to quit smoking

      Children who have at least one parent who smokes have 5.5 times higher levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine, in their urine, according to a study by researchers from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, and the University of Leicester, published online ahead of print in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

      Having a mother that smokes was found to have the biggest independent effect on cotinine in the urine -- quadrupling it. Having a smoking father doubled the amount of cotinine, one of chemicals produced when the body breaks down nicotine from inhaled smoke to get rid of it.

      Sleeping with parents and lower temperature rooms were also associated with increased amounts of cotinine.

      Cotinine was measured in 100 urine samples taken from infants aged 12 weeks. Seventy one of the babies had at least one parent that smoked and the parents of the other 33 were non-smokers.

      Smoking babies tend to come from poorer homes, which may have smaller rooms and inadequate heating, the authors say. Higher cotinine levels in colder times of year may be a reflection of the other key factors which influence exposure to passive smoking, such as poorer ventilation or a greater tendency for parents to smoke indoors in winter.

      Sleeping with a parent is a know risk factor for cot death and the authors suggest that one reason for this could be inhalation of, or closeness to clothing or other objects contaminated with, smoke particles during sleep.

      Nearly 40% of under-fives are believed to be exposed to tobacco smoke at home, and smoke may be responsible for up to 6,000 deaths per year in young children.

      Babies and children are routinely exposed to cigarette smoking by their caregivers in their homes, without the legislative protection available to adults in public places, according to the researchers.

      But they acknowledge that there are practical difficulties in preventing smoking in private homes because it relies on parents or caregivers being educated about the harmful effects of passive smoking on their children and then acting on that knowledge.

      More Toxins Found in Children of Smokers...

      Bankruptcy's Early Warning Signs

      Bankruptcies Begin to Rise Once More

      In 2006, personal bankruptcies decreased 70 percent from its 2005 high, but the rate is increasing this year. The American Bankruptcy Institute reports an increase of 51.3 percent in filings for May 2007 compared with May 2006.

      The 2005 changes in the nation's bankruptcy laws require consumers to seek credit counseling before they can file for bankruptcy. But a recent study by the National Consumer Law Center found that the counseling did little good. And a report from the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) seems to bear that out.

      The association said that of the approximately 400,000 people that its members have counseled since the law went into effect, more than 95 percent went on to file for bankruptcy.

      "By the time our agencies see consumers for pre-bankruptcy counseling it is usually too late for any alternative solutions and the consumers have no choice but to file for bankruptcy," said David Jones, AICCCA president. "If consumers recognized earlier the warning signs of serious financial problems, they would have more choices for a successful solution."

      To help, AICCCA has developed the following warning signs:

      Living paycheck to paycheck -- A recent survey by American Payroll Association revealed that 65 percent of Americans report living paycheck to paycheck. Losing a job or a decrease in pay would put them in immediate financial difficulty and unable to pay some monthly bills. Unless a change can be made very quickly, their financial situations could become dire in a matter of months.

      No savings cushion -- The savings rate for Americans is negative. We spend more than we earn and that habit means that any major financial outlay due to divorce, a large unexpected expense or car or home repair could begin a financial meltdown.

      More than 20% non-mortgage debt to income ratio -- The Center for American Progress reports in its May Economic Snapshot that by December 2006 household debt rose to 132.4 percent of disposable income. For those spending more than 20 percent of net income to satisfy non-mortgage debt, a drastic change in spending behaviors is needed.

      Making only minimum payments on credit cards -- More than forty percent of people with credit cards carry a balance. Paying only the minimum amount due means staying in debt much longer than is prudent and could indicate future financial trouble should income decrease or be interrupted by job loss or illness.

      Not adequately insured -- Some studies suggest that 50 percent of bankruptcies involve medical debt. Without adequate insurance, the high cost of medical, home or car expenses can ruin personal finances

      AICCCA urges consumers who are experiencing two or more of the above warning signs to seek help now.

      In 2006, personal bankruptcies decreased 70 percent from its 2005 high, but the rate is increasing this year. The ABI reports an increase of 51.3 percent i...

      Home Depot Sells Supply Unit As Home Construction Sags

      Home Depot is selling off its underperforming HD supply unit to a trio of private equity groups for $10 billion dollars.

      The announcement follows news that home construction levels fell in May, thanks to the continuing oversupply of existing homes and the overall slump in the housing market.

      The HD supply chain will be carved up by the Carlyle Group, Bain Capital, and Clayton Dubilier & Rice.

      The unit was originally designed to provide supplies for retail construction to bolster Home Depot's signature home construction supply business, but failed to provide significant gains since its inception in 2000.

      The HD supply business was the brainchild of former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli, whose tenure as CEO ended amid a lagging stock price, declines in customer service and criticism of his hefty compensation package. Nardelli resigned in January with a golden parachute of nearly $300 million.

      Shareholders tried to sue to block Nardelli from receiving his compensation package, but an Atlanta judge turned aside the effort.

      While Nardelli did just fine, Home Depot's stock remained relatively flat during the hottest years of the housing boom, and problems with its customer service and supply for homeowners have been a frequent source of complaints by readers.

      The Bottom Keeps Dropping

      The faltering housing market has extended beyond sales of new and existing homes to affect homebuilders, contractors, and supply chains such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and so on. The Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes and apartments dropped by 2.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted level of 1.4 million units -- a 24 percent drop from the previous year.

      And the National Association of Homebuilders' (NAHB) survey of its members found the lowest levels of optimistic sentiment for the market since February 1991, a time period when the housing market was experiencing another pronounced downturn.

      Foreclosures have reached record levels during the current housing slump, putting even more homes on the market and forcing sellers to slash prices and offer incentives to get wary buyers to close the deal.

      Meanwhile, overtaxed consumers are reeling in spending in the wake of high gas prices and maxed-out credit card debt, which means fewer splurges on home improvements.

      Analysts are continually revising their forecasts downward for the market, with some saying that a recovery for housing will not occur until well into 2008.

      The downswing in new housing production is still underway, said David Seiders, chief economist for NAHB, in a statement accompanying the survey results. We still expect starts and permits to bottom out late this year before a systematic recovery process begins in 2008.

      Home Depot Sells Supply Unit As Home Construction Sags...

      Finding a Better Nail-Trimmer

      Clip Jobs Aren't Fun and Easy

      By Gina Spadafori
      Universal Press Syndicate

      Forget the better mousetrap: Build a better nail-trimmer, and grateful pet lovers will beat a path to your door.

      Or at least that's the idea behind a trio of new nail-trimmers that takes the age-old designs and improves on them, a little or a lot. Here's the rundown:

      • SmartTrim. Pick of the litter. One of several new pet-related products brought out by the folks behind the incredibly successful Greenies dog treats, the SmartTrim is lightweight and easy to use. It features a unique adjustable guard that limits the amount of nail that can be clipped each time. Trimmings fall into a container that can be cleaned out by opening a little door on the unit. A battery-operated grinder is in the handle for finishing off the job, and batteries are included. (Suggested retail: $30)

      • Bamboo Care. In both scissor and guillotine styles and two sizes, Bamboo's nail clipper benefits from the company's strength in design and efficiency. The clipper is attractive and comfortable in the hand, and its handles contain both a file and styptic powder container for stopping blood if the quick is nicked. Like most of Bamboo's pet products, it's an improvement on an age-old design. (Suggested retail: $10 to $15, with two-pack refills of styptic powder tubes sold for $5)

      • Careful Clipper. A basic guillotine-style clipper with a twist: A flexible light is attached to shine through the nails and show where the quick is. While not a problem with dogs with white nails, finding the quick can be hard with black nails. You can do the same thing with a penlight if you have at least three hands, but the Careful Clipper makes handling the light much easier. Batteries included. (Suggested retail: $19)

        As with any nail-trimming, you won't get anywhere trying to force your pet to cooperate. If you have a pet who hates to have his nails trimmed, you need to back up and start over.

        Spend some time reintroducing the clippers and associating their presence with treats and praise. After your pet is comfortable with this step, advance to touching the paw and eventually to the nail with the clippers, with the accompaniment of more treats and praise. Soon, you'll be able to cut a tiny bit off one nail. Treat, praise and call it a day. Don't advance to the next step until your pet is comfortable with the step you're on. Eventually, cutting nails will not be a reason for a wrestling match.

        When my oldest retriever came to me, he was young, strong and utterly uncooperative when it came to having his nails trimmed. After several weeks of retraining, he learned to tolerate nail trims and hasn't been a problem since. I no longer have to treat him at every stage of the procedure, but he does appreciate the steady supply of praise and the dog cookie at the end of the job.

        Grind 'Em

        Some dogs find it more tolerable to have their nails ground rather than clipped. As with clipping nails, going slowly and using lots of praise and treats along the way is key to a good experience for both you and your pet.

        Dremel and Oster both make rotary grinders intended solely for pet use, but you can just as easily use any regular rotary grinding tool. I use a corded Dremel with a medium sandpaper head. (For my parrot, though, I like Dremel's small cordless pet model No. 761-01, with a suggested retail of $30.)

        In the early stages of training, just let your dog see the grinder, and praise and treat. In a later session, turn the grinder on and praise and treat. Praise and treat for your dog progressively, allowing the grinder to get closer to a paw and to briefly touch a nail tip. The first time you grind -- which may be several sessions after the first introduction -- be happy with working a little with just one nail and don't forget to praise and treat.

        Be sure to either clip the hair of longhaired dogs or hold it back so it won't get wound in the shaft of the grinder. Support the dog's toe, but don't squeeze too hard. Hold the grinder against the nail for no more than a couple of seconds at a time to prevent heat buildup, and don't push the grinder against the nail -- just hold it there and let the grinder do the work.

        Grind across the bottom and then carefully in from the tip of the nail. If you do this weekly, the quick will recede, and you'll be able to maintain short nails on your dog with ease.


        Losing baby teeth normal for pups

        Q: My daughter got us a puppy for her birthday. He is supposed to be a golden and something else. He's about 3 months old. I am a little concerned because he is losing his baby teeth. Is that normal? We did call the vet, and he said it was OK. What do you think? We had a golden retriever for 14 years, and I don't ever remember her losing her teeth. -- E.C., via e-mail

        A: Your veterinarian is right. It's perfectly normal for your puppy to be losing his baby teeth. Puppies have 28 of those sharp little puppy teeth, and they're usually replaced by 42 permanent ones by the age of 4 months.

        It's not unusual to overlook the loss of puppy teeth. Sometimes they're swallowed; others may land in the grass or somewhere else they'll be hard to spot. Sometimes, though, they're stubborn about leaving, hanging on even when their replacement has erupted. If you observe a double row of teeth, call your veterinarian -- the baby teeth have worn out their welcome and may need to be surgically removed.

        Teething can be irritating or even painful for a pup. Be sure to provide lots of chew toys to help your pup through the process. Don't blame your puppy if he finds things to chew on -- pick up your stuff! If you find him with something you don't want chewed, substitute an appropriate chew toy and praise him for using it. Frozen marrow bones can feel really good on gums while a puppy is teething and are a great (if messy) teething aid.

        Wait for older pup

        Q: What is the right age to take home a puppy? We are looking at a litter the breeder says will be weaned and ready to go at 4 weeks, which seems young to us. -- S.N., via e-mail

        A: It isn't 4 weeks, that's for sure. Seven weeks is the youngest a puppy should ever leave his littermates. Weaning shouldn't be the trigger for placing the puppies, and the seller who thinks so is ill-informed.

        Puppies pick up some important lessons from their mom and their littermates in their fourth, fifth and sixth weeks of life, learning the complex social language that will not only help him get along with other dogs later, but will also help you to train your new pup.

        Some breeders, especially those with small breeds, hold onto their puppies beyond seven weeks, primarily because they're so delicate. That's fine, as long as you've got a breeder who understands the importance of socializing -- safely introducing puppies to new sights, new sounds, and to people of all ages and both genders.

        If you cannot convince the seller to keep the puppies together for an extra three weeks, my suggestion is to find another breeder, one well-versed in the developmental stages of dogs. Or go to a good shelter, where young puppies are placed with others of their age and are socialized by savvy volunteers.

        You want to get your relationship with your puppy started right, and that "right start" happens before you ever bring your new dog home. Choosing the right source for your pup is just as important as choosing the right breed or mix.

        Those extra couple of weeks of learning from littermates are extremely important when it comes to starting off a pup right. A puppy-seller who doesn't understand or doesn't care about critical puppy development is best avoided.

        (Do you have a pet question? Send it to

        PET Rx

        Know the signs of dehydration

        Dehydration can be a serious problem demanding urgent intervention by a veterinarian.

        To check for dehydration, pull up a "tent" of skin over the shoulders of your dog or cat. In a healthy pet, the skin will immediately slide back into place. In a pet with mild dehydration, the skin will be slow to return to its normal position.

        In severe dehydration, the skin will remain in the "tent" position. The animal's mouth and gums may also be dry, with thick or ropey saliva, and eyes may appear sunken into the sockets. An animal with any of these symptoms is in need of immediate veterinary care.

        A pet with mild dehydration can be helped by being moved into a cool area and offered small amounts of water every few minutes. Don't allow a dehydrated pet to drink all she wants, and don't offer dry food.

        If you're in doubt as to how serious the situation is, call your veterinarian for advice.

        (Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (, an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at

        ON THE WEB

        Basset hounds fans love Daily Drool

        The folks behind the Daily Drool ( love basset hounds and want to share their admiration of the breed with other like-minded people. The well-designed Web site offers everything you could want in the way of information about bassets, along with plenty of entertaining diversions such as e-cards, games, images and more.

        A definite labor of love, the Web site supports itself and basset rescue through donations, and with the proceeds from steering people toward Drool-endorsed books and other products. Either way, it's a good site to support and a good cause, too.

        BREED TYPE

        Friendly malamute needs exercise, grooming

        They shed, they roam, they dig, they pull on the leash, and they eat like horses. Why, you might wonder, does anyone on Earth want an Alaskan Malamute?

        It's because, like a force of nature or an Arctic wind, the Malamute is hard to resist. Handsome, smart, friendly, exuberant, joyful and possessed of an enormous curiosity, these dogs are crazy about people and great with kids.

        Of course, as with all large, powerful dogs, careful supervision with children is required. And as with all intelligent dogs, when bored they can get into a lot of mischief. These dogs can and will destroy a car interior or even the wall of a house. The cure and the prevention are the same: Mals need exercise (lots of it) every single day -- rain, shine or blizzard.

        That exercise can't take the form of running free. That's not because a Malamute will ever leave his territory; he won't. It's because his territory is the entire continent of North America, and most Mals are eyeing South America, too. So a good fence is not optional equipment.

        Malamutes need daily brushing to control their shedding, although "control" may be a bit optimistic: Think big drifts of hair everywhere, even in rooms that are off-limits to dogs. On top of that, twice a year, the Malamute will "blow coat," and you may need a professional groomer to rescue you from that avalanche of fur.

        Malamutes suffer from some genetic health problems, and a very few can have temperament problems. So obtain your dog only from a reputable rescue organization or an experienced breeder who does genetic screening tests on his or her dogs. Do not accept assurances that "My lines don't have these problems." Insist on written documentation.

        And buy a really powerful vacuum cleaner. -- Christie Keith,

        THE SCOOP

        Great pet pictures easier than ever

        Ever wonder how the pros get those adorable pictures of dogs and cats nuzzling for ads and commercials? It's easy to get your pet to kiss your kid for a picture using an old trick of the pros.

        The trick: a dab of butter or margarine in just the right spot. You can't see it, but your pet can smell it and won't be able to wait to lick it off your child's cheek.

        Another trick: To get your dog's attention for a picture, rattle keys or squish a squeaky toy. If you're looking for that super-alert look, throw the toy in the direction you want your dog to look. That's what dog-show photographers do.

        Digital photography makes it easy to get great pictures. You can take hundreds of pictures and print just the best without going broke on film or developing costs.

        Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at


      Build a better nail-trimmer and grateful pet lovers will beat a path to your door. The idea behind a trio of new nail-trimmers takes the age-old designs an...

      FDA Disputes Pet Food Pain Killer Findings

      But Texas Lab Stands by Its Test Results

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is disputing the findings of a Texas laboratory that reported it discovered the pain killer acetaminophen in some brands of pet food.

      The FDA said it didnt find acetaminophen in a handful of samples of dog and cat food it tested in the past week, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

      "We cannot validate their finding, Julie Zawisza, assistant commissioner of public affairs for the FDA told the newspaper.

      But learned the FDA cannot confirm it tested the same lots and brands in which the Texas laboratory -- ExperTox, Inc. -- detected the pain medication.

      This case is not closed, Donna Coneley, lab manager with ExperTox, Inc. told us. Theyre (FDA) still requesting samples and data from us. Weve talked to them three times today. I dont see by any means that this is over. If it was over and done with, why would they bother spending so much time with us on the phone and arranging for samples to be released?

      Asked about the FDAs comment to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Coneley responded: I dont know their reasoning. What I do know is that when they told me they tested a few samples of cat and dog food, I asked them if they were the same lots and brands that we tested. And they couldnt confirm that any of them were the same ones we tested.

      Were using two completely different testing instruments to detect those chemical, and the difference comes into play with the instruments and the instrumentation (used) to detect those chemical, she added.

      Coneley said her lab tested 100 to 150 samples of pet food -- and detected acetaminophen in five of those samples.

      The FDA, she said, tested just a few samples of pet food for the pain killer.

      Its easier to say that we cant confirm something by looking at a few samples than to really investigate and continue investigating until you know something for sure, Coneley said. I think this might have been a quick way to get everyone off their (FDA) backs.

      "Imaginary Experts"

      Could those everyones be the Pet Food Institute (PFI), which represents the makers of 98 percent of all dog and cat food produced in the United States and calls itself the voice of U.S. pet food manufacturers?

      Maybe there was pressure from them, Coneley said.

      As we reported on Wednesday, PFI cast doubts on ExperToxs finding.

      Through our contacts in Texas, which is where the lab is located that conducted the analysis, we have learned there is genuine concern among key toxicological and analytical experts about the lab and the actual test results, said PFI spokesman Kurt Gallagher.

      Coneley questioned what experts PFI was talking about.

      They never name the experts theyre working with, she said on Wednesday. When someone says people I know say this, it sounds to me like theyre trying to say there are experts who have looked into this and dont agree with the findings. But I dont believe there are.

      To me, it sounds like theyre talking about imaginary experts. The (scientists at the) FDA are the only people weve been talking to about our findings.

      Coneley told us today that her lab will continue working closely with the FDA and hopes to foster its relationship with that federal agency.

      We dont want to build any animosity with the FDA, she said. Its in our best interest to help them see what were seeing.

      Other Contaminants

      As we reported, acetaminophen isnt the only contaminant ExperTox discovered in the samples of pet food it tested in May.

      The lab found the chemical cyanuric acid -- commonly used in pool chlorination -- in some samples.

      And in other samples, it detected the chemical that triggered the March 2007 recall of millions of containers of dog and cat food: melamine.

      The FDA discovered melamine in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China and used in the more than 5,600 products that pet food makers have recalled in the past three months.

      The chemical -- used to make plastics and fertilizers -- is blamed for the illnesses and deaths of thousands of pets nationwide. It is not approved for use in pet or human food.

      ExperTox did not identify the brands of food it tested because of a confidentiality agreement.

      Menu Foods

      But confirmed one of the brands that tested positive for acetaminophen is Menu Foods Pet Pride.

      Pet owner Don Earl of Port Townsend, Washington, told us he hired ExperTox to analyze samples of Pet Pride "Turkey and Giblets Dinner" and Pet Pride "Mixed Grill.

      He says he took that action because his cat Chuckles suffered kidney disease and died in January after eating those flavors of Pet Pride food.

      He also told us that ExperTox analyzed the same lots and styles of Pet Pride food that he fed Chuckles before she died.

      We reviewed ExperToxs findings of the samples Earl submitted, which confirmed the lab detected acetaminophen in the food.

      The tests also detected cyanuric acid in the samples of Pet Pride food. Those samples, however, did not contain any melamine, the report stated.

      Menu Foods declined to comment on ExperToxs finding and referred calls to the PFI.

      As usual, the FDA did not return our telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

      Pet owner Earl, however, criticized the FDA for making what he called unsubstantiated claims about ExperTox and its findings.

      At the time of the article, the FDA had not tested any of the samples tested by ExperTox, he told us today. It is also of interest that in an attempt to get a second opinion on one of the two varieties of pet food I had tested by ExperTox, I submitted a separate sample to UC Davis, only to later find that UC Davis is a major recipient of pet food company funding. Under the circumstances, it is my firmly held belief that if the FDA is going to make these kinds of unsubstantiated claims, their methods should be publicly examined along side those on the cutting edge of these findings.

      He added: It has been three months since the recall was announced and pet owners still don't have any hard answers as to how and why this happened, or what is safe to feed their pets.

      FDA Disputes Pet Food Pain Killer Findings...

      64,000 Ohio Workers Caught In Data Breach

      A portable storage device containing personal information on 64,467 workers employed by the state of Ohio was stolen from an intern's car on June 10, according to a statement from the office of Governor Ted Strickland. The storage device contained names and Social Security numbers.

      "I have asked the Ohio Highway Patrol to lead the investigation to recover the device," Strickland said in his statement, posted on the state's government Web site. "Also, I have directed the Department of Administrative Services to secure the opportunity for state employees to access free identity theft prevention and protection services for one year."

      The unidentified intern had been incorrectly authorized to take the copied data home with him as part of the state government's regular policies on backing up sensitive data.

      Gov. Strickland signed an executive order ceasing that practice, ordered a review of agency procedures for backing up data, and said that he would "take appropriate disciplinary action when the facts are known."

      Strickland emphasized that the device could not be accessed without special equipment.

      "I don't mean to alarm people unnecessarily," Strickland said. "There's no reason to believe a breach of information has occurred." Nevertheless, Strickland authorized all affected employees to be provided with free credit monitoring for one year, at a cost to the state of $660,000. The state also set up a Web page and toll-free number for affected individuals to call and get information regarding the breach.

      Thefts or losses of computer equipment that contain personal data remain one of the largest sources of data breaches. The data is often unencrypted and easily visible to anyone, sometimes even without password protection. Laptop computers, disks or CD-ROMS, and "thumb drives" all present serious vulnerabilities if they are not properly stored and maintained when filled with sensitive data.

      Employees also often lack proper training in data security and protection for the files they're entrusted with, or circumvent safety measures to make their jobs easier.

      Until recently, Ohio held the dubious honor of largest university-based data breach, caused when hackers broke into the networks of Ohio University and exposed the personal information of nearly 500,000 students, faculty, employees, and retirees. The breaches led to firings of multiple employees and increased scrutiny of the security vulnerabilities of college and university computer networks.

      64,000 Ohio Workers Caught In Data Breach...

      College Students Not As Healthy As They Think

      Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity: theyre conditions normally associated with middle age and older populations. But researchers at the University of New Hampshire say theyre not just your fathers problems any more.

      New data on the widely unstudied demographic of college students indicates that this group of 18-24-year-olds is on the path toward chronic health diseases. Although limited, researchers say national data suggest the trend is not unique to UNH.

      The UNH data, collected from more than 800 undergraduates enrolled in a general-education nutrition course, find that at least one-third of UNH students are overweight or obese, 8 percent of men had metabolic syndrome, 60 percent of men had high blood pressure, and more than two-thirds of women are not meeting their nutritional needs for iron, calcium or folate.

      Theyre not as healthy as they think they are, said UNH lecturer Ingrid Lofgren, who is collecting and analyzing the data with her Nutrition in Health & Well Being co-teachers Joanne Burke and Ruth Reilly, both clinical assistant professors, and lecturer Jesse Morrell.

      The researchers, who presented their findings at the recent Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., initially asked students to engage in a variety of health-indicator screenings like blood pressure and cholesterol to bring the class alive with interactivity.

      They soon realized, however, that the size of the class (525 students per semester enroll in the course; 40 percent of UNH undergraduates take the course) gave them a gold mine of health information on a group about which little is known.

      This is a very understudied population. Theyre very hard to reach, said Reilly, noting that large phone surveys of this age group, such as one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2003, generally do not reach students at college or cell phones.


      As part of the course curriculum, students conducted a range of health screenings on themselves, which the instructors say is an effective teaching tool.

      Students feel theyre invincible; they think their cholesterol isnt going to be high, thats their dads, Burke said.

      When you tell students, this is your data, they sit up and pay attention, adds Morrell.

      Students completed questionnaires on their lifestyle behaviors and dietary habits, chronicling their smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Their body mass index (BMI) was calculated from their height and weight, their waist circumference was measured, and they were screened for blood pressure as well as glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and high-density cholesterol.

      The students also completed a three-day food diary and analyzed their calories, carbohydrates, and nutrient intakes with nutrition software.

      Individual results shocked many of the students, and the aggregated data contradicted the notion that college students are at the peak of health.

      Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of five risk factors (high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high blood glucose, high triglycerides, and low HDL or good cholesterol) that are predictive of future development of heart disease and diabetes, is particularly prevalent in males. Sixty-six percent of males (compared to 50 percent of females) had at least one risk factor for metabolic syndrome, and eight percent of males had metabolic syndrome.

      These individuals, if they continue on this trajectory, are going to be much more of a health burden at age 50 than their parents are, Burke said.

      Poor Nutrition

      The vast majority of students 95 percent of women and 82 percent of men are not meeting nutrient recommendations for fiber.

      Womens intake of the important nutrients iron (23 percent meet recommendations), calcium (33 percent meet recommendations) and folate (32 percent meet recommendations) are remarkably low. Twenty-three percent of men and 34 percent of women participated in less than 30 minutes of activity per day.

      The good news?

      We have very few smokers, said Reilly. Also, Morrell notes that UNH students may be slightly healthier than their peers; national rates of overweight and obesity in this group are close to 40 percent.

      The other good news is that these nutritional benchmarks hit students at a time and in an environment when theyre susceptible to change.

      Late adolescence is a great time to impart good health behaviors, said Reilly, noting that most college students are making independent choices about food and activity for the first time in their lives.

      It was a real wake-up call, says Heather Carmichael, a UNH senior and former Nutrition in Health & Well Being student. I was a vegan and I thought my diet was superb, but no. I wasnt getting enough calcium and I had one risk factor for metabolic syndrome. I was shocked.

      The research can also help inform school policy, from portion size education in dining halls to routine blood pressure screenings at health services.

      In addition to publishing their results, the faculty team is looking to help other universities especially those with greater ethnic diversity than UNH replicate their study. Were collecting data thats useful to the students, to the university, and to us. The project is a win-win for everyone, Morrell said.

      Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity: theyre conditions normally associated with middle age and older populations....

      Nordstrom Jeweled Children's Sandals

      June 14, 2007
      Nordstrom is recalling about 1,800 children's jeweled calypso sandals. The jewel decorations on the shoes can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      This recall involves Nordstrom brand sandals sold in toddler and little girls sizes. The Calypso-style shoes are tan and white with gold straps that have three jeweled flowers on the top. Nordstrom and a flower pattern are embossed on the upper sole of the shoes. Toddler sizes were sold with an ankle strap.

      The sandals were sold at Nordstrom stores nationwide and on during February 2007 for about $27.

      Consumers should immediately return the recalled sandals to any Nordstrom store or for a full refund.

      Consumer Contact: For additional information, call Nordstrom at (888) 282-6060 anytime, or visit the firms Web site at

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Nordstrom Jeweled Children's Sandals...

      Johns Hopkins Settles Student Loan Probe

      Agrees to Pay $1 Million, Adopt New Code of Conduct

      New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has reached agreement with Johns Hopkins University that addresses improper transactions between financial aid officials and student loan companies.

      This settlement resulted from Cuomos findings that Ellen Frishberg, the director of student financial services at Johns Hopkins University, was improperly promoting a lender, Student Loan Xpress, after the company paid her more than $65,000 in consulting fees and tuition payments.

      The agreement marks the latest fallout from Cuomos nationwide investigation into conflicts of interest in the $85 billion-a-year student loan industry.

      Ellen Frishbergs conduct while leading the financial aid office of Johns Hopkins ranks among the worst we have seen at any school across the country. Her work was mired with conflicts of interest, deception, and unethical behavior, said Cuomo. Todays settlement brings to an end a sad chapter in Johns Hopkins history and sets in place a monitoring regimen to ensure this never happens again.

      Under the terms of the agreement, Johns Hopkins will adopt Cuomos Code of Conduct, and pay $1.125 million. Of the $1.125 million, $562, 500 will be paid into the New York Attorney Generals national education fund.

      The remaining $562,500 will be used to implement a similar program to be overseen by the Maryland Attorney Generals office. Johns Hopkins has also agreed to have its financial aid procedures monitored for a period of five years by both Attorney General Cuomo and the Maryland Attorney General.

      The transactions involving Ellen Frishberg, the director of student financial services at Johns Hopkins University, and Student Loan Xpress (SLX), one of the largest student loan companies nationwide, were uncovered as part of Cuomos investigation.

      Ellen Frishberg accepted more than $65,000 in consulting fees and tuition payments from Student LoanXpress. Frishberg also took payments from other lenders as detailed in the settlement agreement. The transactions took place between 2002 and 2006. During these years, Frishberg failed to disclose these payments and activities, and actively provided marketing promotion and other support for SLX.

      Lunches, Gifts, Entertainment

      Cuomos ongoing nationwide probe has exposed, among other things, that lenders pay financial school aid advisors for entertainment, meals, holiday lunches and make office and individual gifts.

      Lenders have also provided goods, services, or payments to the Universities related to the lending program, including certain office supplies, brochures, information in hard copy and available to students electronically, support for job fairs, workshops for students and employees, awards and promotions, and printing and distribution of brochures.

      This agreement, together with the recent announcement that Columbia University agreed to adopt Cuomos Code of Conduct, and pay $1.125 million into a national education fund is tremendous progress in achieving solutions to the student lending crisis.

      Twenty-six schools and the nations top-five lenders (seven lenders in all) have now reached agreements with Cuomo.

      Johns Hopkins Settles Student Loan Probe...

      Consumer Groups Decry Debt Collection Horror Stories

      Debt collectors believe they can make more money when they intimidate, critics say

      Lawyers at two consumer groups are lambasting the debt collection industry for engaging in abusive tactics and for pursuing consumers even when shown that they have the wrong person or the debt has been paid.

      Debt collectors believe they can make more money when they intimidate, threaten criminal prosecution, harass, and collect fees and charges far in excess of the real debt," the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) said.

      "Even more startling, debt buyers have learned to work the system to win judgments and coerce payments even when they have the wrong person or lack any evidence that the consumer owes the debt, NCLC and NACA wrote in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission.

      I thought I had heard it all, said John Fugate, a Texas consumer attorney whose story was described in the comments. The debt collector told the nine-year-old child of my college friend, who is the victim of identity theft, that they were going to take her mommy away forever.

      The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed in 1977 to prohibit such abusive debt collection tactics. The FTC has solicited comments on the state of debt collection for a workshop October 10-11, which will take a 30-year look back at how well the Act has worked.

      Though the Act has had some success, the Senate report describing the problems that prompted Congress to pass the law in 1977 could have been written today, said Ira Rheingold, Executive Director of NACA.

      The phenomenal growth of the debt buyer industry -- which did not exist 30 years ago -- has also increased the abuses tremendously, said Lauren Saunders, Managing Attorney of NCLCs Washington, DC, office.

      Debts that may be a decade or more old are now sold in bundles to debt buyers for pennies on the dollar. Debt buyers then file cases by the thousands in overworked courts. The courts typically enter default judgments even if the collector has no proof that the consumer owed the debt, that the amount owed is legal and correct, or even that the debtor being sued is the right person, she added.

      Debts often are sold from one collector to the next, and the collector rarely keeps critical information such as proof of the original debt, a record of payments made, or efforts the consumer made with the previous collector to resolve a dispute.

      It is an Alice in Wonderland nightmare for consumers to find their old records, convince the debt collector that they have made a mistake, take time off work to go to court, and then have to begin the process all over again after the debt is sold to the next collector, said Dick Rubin, a consumer attorney in New Mexico.

      The comments also point out that, in a marked change from 1977, credit is often pushed on people who are already in strained financial circumstances.

      Frequently, creditors make their profits not from the regular repayment of the debt, but from the piling on of abusive fees and penalties. From the lack of underwriting to creditor practices that encourage default, debt collection becomes inevitable, the comments said. The comments describe abuses with credit cards, mortgage servicing, and payday loans.

      Consumer Groups Decry Debt Collection Horror Stories...

      Vitamin D Reduces Cancer Risk, Study Finds

      Landmark study conducted by Creighton University School of Medicine

      Most Americans and others are not getting enough vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, a fact that may put them at significant risk for developing cancer, according to a landmark study conducted by Creighton University School of Medicine.

      The four-year, randomized study followed 1,179 healthy, postmenopausal women from rural eastern Nebraska. Participants taking calcium, as well as a quantity of vitamin D3 nearly three times the U.S. government's Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for middle-age adults, showed a dramatic 60 percent or greater reduction in cancer risk compared with women who did not get the vitamin.

      The results of the study, conducted between 2000 and 2005, were reported in the June 8 online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

      "The findings are very exciting. They confirm what a number of vitamin D proponents have suspected for some time but that, until now, have not been substantiated through clinical trial," said principal investigator Joan Lappe, Ph.D., R.N., Creighton professor of medicine. "Vitamin D is a critical tool in fighting cancer as well as many other diseases."

      Research participants were all 55 years and older and free of known cancers for at least 10 years prior to entering the Creighton study. They were randomly assigned to take daily dosages of 1,400-1,500 mg supplemental calcium, 1,400-1,500 mg supplemental calcium plus 1,100 IU of vitamin D3, or placebos.

      Over the course of four years, women in the calcium/vitamin D3 group experienced a 60 percent decrease in their cancer risk compared with the group taking placebos.

      On the premise that some women entered the study with undiagnosed cancers, researchers then eliminated the first-year results and looked at the last three years of the study. When they did that, the results became even more dramatic with the calcium/vitamin D3 group showing a startling 77 percent cancer-risk reduction.

      In the three-year analysis, there was no statistically significant difference in cancer incidence between participants taking placebos and those taking just calcium supplements.

      Through the course of the study, 50 participants developed nonskin cancers, including breast, colon, lung and other cancers.

      Lappe said further studies are needed to determine whether the Creighton research results apply to other populations, including men, women of all ages, and different ethnic groups. While the study was open to all ethnic groups, all participants were Caucasian, she noted.

      There is a growing body of evidence that a higher intake of vitamin D may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of cancer, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases.

      The Source: Sunlight

      Humans make their own vitamin D3 when they are exposed to sunlight. In fact, only 10-15 minutes a day in a bright summer sun creates large amounts of the vitamin, Lappe said. However, people need to exercise caution since the sun's ultraviolet B rays also can cause skin cancer; sunscreen blocks most vitamin D production.

      In addition, the latitude at which you live and your ancestry also influence your body's ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D. People with dark skin have more difficulty making the vitamin. Persons living at latitudes north of the 37th parallel Omaha, Neb., is near the 41st parallel -- cannot get their vitamin D naturally during the winter months because of the sun's angle.

      Experts generally agree that the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D needs to be increased substantially, however there is debate about the amount. Supplements are available in two forms -- vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Creighton researchers recommend vitamin D3, because it is more active and thus more effective in humans.

      Vitamin D Reduces Cancer Risk, Study Finds...

      Importer Recalls Toothpaste After FDA Warning

      170,000 tubes may contain a deadly chemical

      Following Food and Drug Administration warnings last week, a Florida importer recalled 170,000 tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste that may contain a deadly chemical.

      According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) press release, the toothpastes may contain diethylene glycol (DEG). DEG is a thickening agent used in antifreeze. It is a Central Nervous System depressant and potent kidney and liver toxin.

      DEG killed 51 residents of Panama a year ago after it was found in Chinese-imported cough syrup.

      The recalled toothpastes come in 6.4 ounce and 9 ounce tubes and are titled:

      • Shir Fresh Mint Fluoride
      • Shir Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste
      • Shir Fresh Ice Shir Mint Fluoride Toothpaste

      Although no injuries or illnesses have been reported, consumers who have the product are urged to either return it the store they purchased it or discard it.

      Consumers who believe Chinese-made toothpaste has made them sick are encouraged to file a complaint with and with the FDAs MedWatch division.

      Importer Recalls Toothpaste After FDA Warning...

      Harmony At Home

      Careful Introductions Set the Stage for Keeping Dogs and Cats Together Happily

      By Gina Spadafori
      Universal Press Syndicate

      Can cats and dogs get along? While cats and dogs scheming against each other is a comedic staple, millions of real-life cats and dogs live in harmony, and millions of people feel no family would be complete without at least one of each pet.

      Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can be difficult, though, as anyone who's tried to introduce them knows. There are some basic steps to getting both pets to at least call an interspecies truce.

      Under no circumstances should cat-dog introductions be handled by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of circumstances. It's also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cat. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run, attacking the smaller animal.

      Introductions must be supervised and handled with planning, care and patience.

      If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters, rescue groups or private parties looking to place puppies and dogs often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the pet behaves in the presence of one.

      If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet's obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash and be trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a "sit" or "down" position while on that leash.

      For the cat's comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom) where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.

      After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat's room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use "sit-stay" or "down-stay" to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don't force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses underneath the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.

      Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat's presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding, with more treats and praise.

      When the dog isn't interested in bothering the cat and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.

      It's not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other's company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest of your pets' lives.

      Turning Theory Into Practice

      In May, Clara became a member of my family.

      I had waited to get another cat until the passing of a dog who couldn't be trusted to leave a kitten alone. I always meant to get another cat after Andy died, but one thing or another always came up, and time just moved on.

      Finally, the stars aligned and a kitten came home.

      She started her life in one room, and I was prepared to have slow, supervised introductions to the other pets. Things progressed quickly, though, and within two weeks Clara had full range of the house. The dogs either ignored her or were happy to be with her. We're still working on her interactions with the parrot.

      It's a joy to have a cat in the house again. -- Gina Spadafori


      Convert your cat after you move

      Q: My cat loves to be outside. We will be moving to another apartment soon, and she'll have to stay inside. What can I do to make her want to stay inside? -- K.M., via e-mail

      A: Moving is absolutely the best time to convert a free-roaming cat to an indoor-only one. That's because when you move to a new home, your cat is completely uprooted from her familiar territory. What she's given in her new home is all she'll come to know, and she'll soon accept the new living space as her own.

      But you must keep her inside, with no exceptions. If you let her out, she'll want out more -- and maybe take off looking for her old digs.

      Because cats are so territorial, some cat lovers find that their free-roaming pets keep showing up at their old home after a move. Converting your cat to an indoor pet is the best thing for her health and safety, but there's more to it than just keeping the door closed.

      Make sure your cat has lots of things to keep her active and interested. Spend more time engaging her in interactive games by using a "cat fishing pole" and other toys that require your involvement. You'll both get more out of the fun!

      Invest in a good cat tree, a tall one with cubbyholes for hiding and platforms for looking down on the world. In addition to the tree, offer other opportunities for approved scratching, which is natural, healthy behavior for your cat.

      Turn her into a huntress. Use "food puzzles" to add a degree of difficulty to eating, and offer small portions of food in places that require effort to find. Provide outdoor space safely. If you can't screen in a porch or balcony, provide a cat-sized perch near a screened window. Fresh air is always appreciated.

      Boredom and obesity are the enemies of indoor cats. It doesn't take much more than imagination to turn your apartment into a jungle gym for your cat. Once you've done it, she won't miss the outdoors anymore -- and she'll live a longer, healthier life for being spared the dangers that lurk beyond the door. -- Gina Spadafori

      (Do you have a pet question? Send it to


      Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

      On there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to or visiting


      Bird diet? Mix it up

      No matter what your bird thinks, seeds are not the best diet for pet parrots, a group that includes everything from the tiniest parakeet to the largest macaw.

      An all-seed diet contributes both directly (through malnutrition) and indirectly (by weakening the bird, making it easier for infectious diseases to take hold) to a serious reduction in the lifespan of any pet bird -- by half or more in many situations.

      What should you be feeding him instead? Variety is the name of the game when it comes to feeding your pet bird. This means in addition to offering high-quality pelleted food, you should be offering a wide array of healthy "people food" -- fresh vegetables, fruits, pasta, bread, scrambled eggs. Whatever has good nutrition for you is also good for your parrot.

      If your bird is a "seed junkie," talk to an avian veterinarian about a strategy for converting your pet to a base diet of pellets complemented by a variety of healthy foods. As for seeds, they're still OK to give your bird as an occasional treat. Even better: Use them as an incentive in training. -- Gina Spadafori


      Cats often want to be 'only child'

      A cat will typically adapt better to being an only pet than a dog will. One reason may be that wild dogs hunt in packs, whereas cats hunt alone. Like some people, many cats don't like to share things or have their routines interrupted. And, like some people, the older the cat, the more set he becomes in his ways.

      How would you like your family to bring home a companion sight unseen? Ideally, all relationships start with a trial run (for example, dating comes before the decision to enter into a long-term relationship). Thus, if you can't bring a second cat home on a trial basis, you may be better off with just one. A little loneliness beats being unhappy and stressed-out all the time.

      (Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at

      DOG CARS

      Little Honda a good Fit for city dogs

      Two days after the Honda Fit Sport was delivered -- just days before Memorial Day weekend -- gas prices hit an all-time high. That alone drew more than a few interested looks and a handful of questions every time I got out of this little hatchback.

      You are not going to be able to fit a quartet of Labradors inside, along with all the crates and other gear that goes with a weekend of dog activities. And you probably won't be loading up your four-legged family for a cross-country trip in the Fit. But as one of the new class of fuel-efficient, fun-to-drive and easy-to-park "city cars," it's hard to top this brave little Honda.

      The Fit's interior feels incredibly roomy, and the seats are extremely comfortable, with good lumbar support. Airbags all around help to even the playing field when you're on the road with lumbering beasts that could crush you like a bug. The Fit feels tight, handles nimbly and just plain makes you smile to be in it.

      The cargo space is surprisingly generous and versatile. There's no problem fitting in a pair of small dog crates or one large one. For more than one big dog, though, you'll have to go to harnesses for safety -- there just isn't enough room inside for side-by-side crates for big dogs.

      Still, the Fit could be all you need for most of your dog-hauling errands. After all, most trips to the veterinarian's are one dog at a time. And for the money you save driving the Fit around town, you could pop for a rental on something bigger when planning a road trip. The Fit starts at $13,500 for entry-level models; the Sport model I tested was $16,500. Fuel efficiency is 31 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

      (Pet Connection's Gina Spadafori reviews new vehicles for their canine suitability on


      Reasons for seeing the vet

      According to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., the top 10 reasons why dogs go to the veterinarian (based on insurance claims) are:

      1. Skin allergies

      2. Ear infections

      3. Stomach upsets

      4. Urinary tract infections

      5. Benign tumors

      6. Hot spots

      7. Sprains

      8. Arthritis

      9. Enteritis

      10. Eye infections



      Fans of ferrets get help online

      In California, you don't see a lot of ferrets. That's because of the state's stubborn refusal to offer legal entry to a pet whose popularity elsewhere is without dispute.

      That doesn't mean there aren't ferrets in California -- there are estimated to be tens of thousands of these pets secretly kept -- or that people in that state and across the continent don't need help caring for these animals.

      The Everything Ferret Web site lives up to its name, with lots of help for ferret fans. Nothing fancy here: The site owner wants people to think before getting a ferret and to care for the pet properly thereafter.

      There's good information on how to feed and house a ferret, and also when veterinary care is needed. Ferret lovers also share pictures and stories, and help each other over the rough spots of life with these lively relatives of the weasel. -- Gina Spadafori

      Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to or by visiting


      Harmony At Home...

      Saturn Targets Toyota, Honda for Side-by-Side Tests

      Ford Also Challenging Japanese Models

      Saturn has joined Ford Motor Co. in encouraging its dealers to make both the Toyota Camry and HondaAccord available for test drives for comparison shoppers.

      Saturn wants consumers to compare the two Japanese models with the Saturn mid-sized Aura sedan.

      "We'll do the ad side, they'll (dealers) do the vehicle side," Saturn spokesman Michael Morrissey said at a press briefing. Saturn was expected to announce its "Side-by-Side-by-Side Test Drive" program with national and regional advertising supplemented by local dealer ads. The program runs through July.

      Ford is encouraging test drives of the all-wheel-drive Fusion and the front-drive Camry and Accord, in what the automaker calls the "Fusion Challenge."

      Ford has launched television, print and Internet ads comparing the Fusion directly with Accord and Camry.

      Both General Motors and Ford are out to change the perception that their products are inferior to Honda and Toyota.

      Over the last 25 years, Ford and GM have lost an enormous chunk of their market share to the Japanese. In 1980, GM commanded 46 percent of the U.S. car market but that is down to 19.2 percent this year.

      Ford has dropped from 17.3 percent in 1980 to 11.1 percent this year. At the same time, Toyota sales have tripled in the U.S. and Honda sales have doubled.

      Both GM and Ford hope the side-by-side advertising campaign will help them demonstrate that they have closed the quality gap with the Japanese automakers.

      Ford is bragging about its strong performance in the J.D. Power and Associates initial quality comparisons and GM is touting its five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

      Ford car sales are up following the "Fusion Challenge" so far this year with the automaker selling 66,260 Fusions. By comparison, Toyota has sold 193,900 Camrys during the first five months of the year.

      Saturn Targets Toyota, Honda for Side-by-Side Tests...