Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: How do you convince co-workers to stay on topic and on track in business meetings? Each week I am required to attend a mandatory meeting, and each week the people in that meeting drag in personal issues or start talking about the news.

I have tried suggesting that we stay on track and keep the meetings brief, but it's not working — especially since management is one of the worst offenders. Please respond!

— ON TRACK IN LAWTON, OKLA.

DEAR ON TRACK: Some companies have eliminated meetings for exactly the reason you have described and found that productivity increased. Those who schedule regular meetings keep them on track by listing the subjects to be discussed on an agenda and sticking to it. However, someone must control the meeting and ensure that the agenda is adhered to.

Because your boss is causing the problem, there is nothing you or I can do about it. If it was another employee, "someone" could suggest that the topic of conversation wasn't on the agenda and a better time for discussing it would be during a break or at lunch.

DEAR ABBY: A dear cousin let me know that she'll be coming to visit for two weeks. My problem is, she's allergic to everything and has asked me to purchase special foods for her and to board my cats for the duration of her stay.

The food and boarding fees are very expensive, and I don't earn that much. Also, my cats are my children. They won't be happy to be away from me, nor will I be happy to have them away. My cousin asked me to do these things after she informed me that she had already purchased her airline tickets. What should I do?

— BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

DEAR BETWEEN: If your presumptuous "dear" cousin is "allergic to everything," then surely she must be aware that her allergies will be triggered if she is exposed not only to your cats, but also the dander that they have shed on the furniture, carpets and possibly the window treatments in your home. In other words, boarding your "children" may not be enough to prevent an allergic reaction.

For her sake and yours, before she arrives give her a list of reasonably priced, pet-free hotels and motels close by. Her health could depend on it.

P.S. Room service should be able to cater to her dietary needs.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.