My Best Friends: Cats & Dogs, a CD-ROM in English by Sproing of Germany for Eidos Interactive of England, distributed with a 28-page English-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Interactive, requires Windows XP and above and a 1 ghz Pentium 3 PC or better, ages three through adult, NIS 149. Rating: *** Scientific studies have shown that children who care for a pet develop a sense of responsibility, and elderly and lonely people who do so are healthier and live longer. Do these same benefits hold when the pet is not living and breathing but only virtual, the figment of a computer's imagination? Personally, I doubt it. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a lot of demand around the world for pet care games, whether as a Sims add-on, the Petz series or Pet Vet programs. In this game, you are the virtual owner of any of eight pets, four of them cats and four dogs. There is the tabby, which is affectionate and energetic but a bit slow to learn; the Siamese, independent and clever but a bit nervous and lazy; Maine coon cat, outdoorsy and curious but tends to get dirty and has a big appetite; and the British blue cat, which is proud and clever but tires quickly and is prone to illness. On the dog side, there is the retriever, which is affectionate and a quick learner but tires easily; the husky, loyal and strong but stubborn; the German shepherd, which likes the outdoors but eats a lot; and the Dalmatian, which is strong willed and doesn't leave fur on the carpet but easily becomes bored and moody. After selecting your pet, you first have to do your basic chores: Feed it, stroke it, clean up its environment, wash and groom it, take it for a checkup at the vet and let it sleep. You won't get your hands dirty, as each of these chores is accomplished merely by clicking and dragging the mouse, but they have to be performed constantly. You choose among ordinary or especially healthful or oily food; choose a mop, broom, brush, vacuum cleaner and spray to clean the pet's bed and immediate surroundings; tickle the animal with the cursor, which makes it look ecstatic; shampoo your pet until it sparkles and click to let it sleep (during which time the game is automatically saved and you earn coins) to restore its health and energy. A pull-down pet properties' meter gauges the animal's level of energy, confidence, bonding, health, hunger, hygiene and ability, and when these go low, you know when you must act to deal with problems. Only when the pet gets to know you well from this routine can you take it to the play area outside the house for games and training. Click the mouse button to get the dog from a standing position to a sitting one or to present a paw; cats are less amenable to learning tricks, which have to be unlocked gradually as you proceed with training. Soon your dog will learn to fetch, and your cat will hunt and pounce on a target or leap over barrels. Try the tug-of-war against your pet and pull the rope so the rag will end up on your side. When you and your four-legged friend want time off, go to the shop to purchase any of dozens of care products, pet accessories and treats with your coins, all hard earned from caring for your pet. With enough training, you and your pet will form the team that will win cash prizes both in the beauty contests and the agility and barrel-leaping competitions. Go to arenas for two heats and one final match. These competitions get increasingly difficult for you to win. The game proceeds on a daily basis, and since competitions take place only on Sundays, you can try again the next week if your pet fails a competition. However, the game's graphics are ordinary, and pets don't really look lifelike. The chores quickly become as repetitive as having to take care of a digital Tamagotchi pet, with your love unrequited except by a bark or meow. After a few hours of care giving for my virtual cat and dog, I felt as if I had been given one of those electronic baby dolls presented abroad to high-risk teenage girls to discourage them from becoming pregnant while unmarried. After constantly wailing and having to be fed, diapered, entertained and put to bed, these dolls could put you off parenthood for life. So too, this disk could discourage you from wanting to devote your existence to a pet.