Of course we don't set out to buy a defective dog.
Our previous pooch, Sherman, was the Patron Saint of Self-Effacing Mixed
Breeds, but he developed lots of defects during his seventeenth and final year.
So we are ready now for a dog with all his faculties gleaming, his teeth clean
and sharp, his heart chugging away pocketa pocketa pocketa without a
queep. In short, something in mint condition.
Instead, we get Ned, the One-Eyed Beagle.
He is the last one the breeder has left from the litter and it's easy to
see why. The bad eye looks spookymilky and set back deeper in his skull than
his good one. But, the breeder tells us (and his vet confirms it over the
telephone), it's probably not serious: a scratch on the retina that will heal
in several days.
So we write a check and take our brand new pup home to admire his
Five days later, the eye doesn't look any better, maybe worse, so we take
him to our old vet, the one who'd treated Sherman long after less wimpish owners
would have put him to sleep, as we say in the dog game.
"Uh oh," he says when he sees the eye.
He tells us it is shot, irreparably damaged, forever no good. Ruptured,
he says, and all the fluid drained out.
Ned is struggling to get away, crying and growling and trying to bite the
vet's fingers. Aside from the eye, we ask, how does the vet like the pup?
Not much at all, it turns out. Ned has a terrible overbite and worst of
all, even more serious than the bad eye, Ned is headstrong, he wants to dominate
anyone he's around, and he's going to be hell to train. The vet can tell, he
says, from the way Ned refuses to tolerate a hand atop his snout.
"You're not going to like him," he tells us. "You're going to be
comparing him to Sherman and you're not going to like him."
The vet liked Sherman a lot because he never made a fuss when things were
poked in his bodily orifices. He had both eyes, his jaws matched nicely, and he
wasn't headstrong. He tolerated a hand atop his snout and he put up with being
He put up with nearly everything. That's why we had him canonized.
"I recommend you take the pup back to the breeder," the vet says. "Get a
We wonder what we'll look like in the mirror if we send our defective dog
back to the shop. He can't be fixed, and there's no market for headstrong, one-
eyed Beagles with mismatched jaws, so we have a pretty good idea of what will
happen to him: he'll be put to sleep, as we say in the dog game.
I tell my friend Mary Smith about the problem. She doesn't see it as a
problem at all: a headstrong, one-eyed Beagle with mismatched jaws is a pearl
of great price to be made over and crooned to and filled up with good things to
eat. Because of, not despite, the defects. She buys me a stuffed dog
to help me decide.
The Truth, Mainly
"Here's a dog without flaws," she says. "Boring, isn't it?
So we decide the hell with it, we'll keep the pup. You can't name a dog
Ned and then take him back for a refund.
"We'll get a little eye-patch for him," my wife says.
"And a little pirate hat," my daughter says.
"And a little parrot to put on his shoulder," my son says.
"Yeah," I say. "We'll have fun."
I look at that milky eye and I wonder how it would have been had we got to
the breeder earlier in the day before the other puppies were sold. Then I worry
that I'm such a tightwad I resent having bought damaged goods, and I wonder if
Mary's joke is more than a joke.
I remember Hawthorne's scientist in "The Birthmark" who cannot tolerate
the one flaw in his wife's beauty, who devises a treatment that erases the
birthmark but kills the patient so that he ends up with an absolutely flawless
I lock my office door on Mary's stuffed dog and walk home through the
snow, down the alley behind our house, through the back gate, past the frozen
bed of day lilies where we buried Sherman.
"Whaddya think, Sherm?" I ask the snow.
Inside the warm house, Ned squints Popeye-like over the edge of his box,
tumbles out, slithers and slides and bounces across the kitchen floor, making
puppy yips all the way. He bumps into me because he's got no depth perception.
He starts chewing on my pant leg, his upper and lower teeth not meeting right,
and with his front end down and his rear end up, with tail all awag, he growls
when I try to take my pant leg back. He seems glad to see me.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.