$19.99 plus shipping and handling from Casual Living, 5401 Hangar Court, Tampa, Fla. 33634, 800-652-2948; www.casuallivingusa.com Suggested by Barbara Brown of Portage, Ind.
Americans are crazy mad for dogs. These days people take their ''canine companions'' with them everywhere -- on airplanes, into restaurants, to the movies, into the shower, etc. They talk to their dogs all time, buy expensive merchandise for their dogs, hire psychologists for their dogs, and just generally treat their dogs like humans, only better. It is only a matter of time before dogs have the right to vote, at least in California. (They will support Sen. Barbara Boxer. Ha ha!)
Perhaps you, or somebody on your gift list, would like to participate in the dog craze, but you have been unable to get past the fact that dogs -- even really nice dogs with psychologists -- are basically animals with the IQ of rust who are always barking and pooping and attempting to mate with inappropriate objects and making the weewee of joy on your feet.
That is the beauty of this gift item, ''Almost a Real Pup,'' which is a semi-realistic puppy made -- according to the product website -- of ''handcrafted polyester.'' It doesn't engage in any annoying dog behavior. It just lies there and -- thanks to the miracle of ''D'' cell batteries -- appears to breathe. You can talk to it just as you would talk to a real dog, and it will exhibit pretty much the same level of comprehension. If robbers come to your house, you can throw ''Almost a Real Pup'' at them, and it will still love you just as much as before.››Bra Bag