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The Truth, Mainly - 05/07/1990

One-eyed beagles and the gift of grace

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 spooky—milky 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 structural integrity.

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 dominated.

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 refund."

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."

And yet.

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 corpse.

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.


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