DEAR ABBY: I hope you can answer my question in your column because I'm too embarrassed to ask anyone I know.

After 12 years of marriage, I filed for divorce. A little background: My husband drank heavily and became so physically abusive that if I had not taken our young child and left him, I might not have been around to write this letter. I am now in counseling and doing well.Because there is a custody battle and a good deal of money involved, I have retained a top-notch lawyer. He's single, and I am sure he is ethical when it comes to lawyer-client relationships. So what's the problem? I find him very attractive, and when this mess is over, I'd like to date him. We have similar backgrounds and have enjoyed pleasant conversations together. I don't know if he has any interest in me.

Abby, in general, do good, ethical lawyers ever date their clients after their cases have been closed? And if they do, how should I proceed after my divorce is over? - HOPEFUL

DEAR HOPEFUL: Good, ethical lawyers have been known to not only date their clients but marry them. But it might be wise to put out some feelers to learn if he's already involved.

Attraction usually works both ways, so after "this mess is over," invite him to escort you somewhere. If he's interested and available, he'll accept. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

DEAR ABBY: Our problem is similar to "Dog Tired's" - only worse. The house next door is only 8 feet away, and the woman who lives there has 12 barking dogs! We have two small children who are constantly awakened by the dogs.

We complained to the police and were told to sign a complaint and take our neighbor to court, which we did - twice! The first was a waste of time. The second time, she was fined $30, but the dogs continued to bark. We finally decided to move, so we put our house up for sale.

One couple came back three times to look at the house, and the last time, our neighbor let all her dogs out and they all started to bark, so we lost the sale of our house.

We are now living with my mother for the time being, as we don't know what else to do. Any suggestions? - IN THE DOGHOUSE IN OAKLAND, N.J.

DEAR IN THE DOGHOUSE: I checked with the police department in your borough. They say, "Four dogs is the limit." Apparently your neighbor was able to get around it by invoking the "grandfather clause." (She had the 12 dogs before the four-dog-limit law was passed.)

However, when people cannot sell their home, and their children suffer loss of sleep due to the constant barking, it's time to review the law regarding the number of dogs one can keep in a residential neighborhood.

Readers, to find out what the laws are in your area, call your local animal protection league.

CONFIDENTIAL TO HAD IT UP TO HERE IN HOUSTON: Move on. A good artist knows when a painting is finished.

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