Seven poodles were in attendance when Melanie Travis's Uncle Max died in his kennel. But it's one poodle too few, as Melanie's Aunt Peg realizes when she goes looking for Beau, a prize stud for whom she's turned down $20,000. Since neither the police nor Melanie's deadbeat brother, Frank, is interested in the vanished dog, Melanie, a special ed. teacher with the summer on her hands, inherits prickly Aunt Peg, her problems, and her plan: to make the rounds of suburban breed shows asking breeders and handlers if they have a stud she can breed with her (fictitious) bitch. It's a plan that doesn't produce quick results or generate much suspense, but it sure does introduce Melanie to an awful lot of poodles and their masters, from bitter rivals Randy Tarnower and Crawford Langley (whose claim to have a stud for everybody turns out to be truer than Melanie realizes) to dazzling Sam Driver, still smarting from Aunt Peg's rejection of his blank-check offer for Beau. Melanie juggles her four-year-old, Davey, her flinty aunt--intermittently convinced that the culprit is Max's sister Aunt Rose (a.k.a. Sister Anne Marie), who's leaving the convent to marry a priest--and her appealing ignorance about poodles en route to a solution that packs a surprising amount of surprise. Less besotted than Susan Conant's show-dog tales, though the target audience is still clearly dogs and their favorite people.