January 25, 1999 12:00 PM

by Jane and Michael Stern

In the best situations, puppies, like babies, arrive as if wrapped presents: beautiful, welcome and filled with the unexpected. But as veteran husband-and-wife authors Jane and Michael Stern (Dog Eat Dog, Amazing America) illustrate in this compare-and-contrast account of two newborn pooches (one a saintly Labrador retriever trained as a guide dog, the other their own deranged bullmastiff pup), that gift sometimes can be as much fun as a mail bomb.

While Parnell, the Labrador, goes on to lead a life of dignified service, Clementine eats her own feces, nearly kills Lewis, the Sterns’ pet green Amazon parrot, and pulls on Jane’s skirts as if they were tug toys. Though the book is at times both moving (Parnell meeting his blind owner for the first time) and amusing (Clementine being escorted to a veterinarian specializing in canine neurology to be tested for symptoms of attention deficit disorder), it reads like one tale (or tail) too many. The constant back-and-forth between the two stories seems forced and gives both pups short shrift. And the “service” pages (what a puppy costs, how to find Frisbee-catching competitions) crammed in between are about as exciting as eating Alpo day after day. (Scribner, $22)

Bottom Line: Fetching at times, but not enough meat to fill the bowl

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