The Most Perfect Creature of Heaven

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Scottie and I laid Picabo to rest this afternoon. Champion Highlander's Bosmina Picabo, the brightest, prettiest, sweetest, gentlest, most loving creature ever to walk the face of the Earth — gone before her time.

Scottish deerhounds, a large breed, live an average of nine years, but Scottie and I are accustomed to keeping them around much longer. Abi went at 13, Polly and Lightfoot at 12.

We attribute this longevity to a combination of mineral-rich well water, home cooking, tons of love, the companionship of dogs, and room to run, an advantage for sighthounds first bred to chase down deer.

Picabo was six, barely into the prime of her life.

Though we know what took her, we'll never know why. None of the veterinarians who treated her, none of the specialists, could tell us what started Picabo on the three-week downward spiral that led to her death, or why none of their medications, their "heroic measures," worked.

Sir Walter Scott dubbed his deerhound, Maida, "a most perfect creature of heaven." Picabo went beyond.

We called her Curly Noodle for the way she wrapped her body tight around our legs, her tail a windshield wiper gone wild. Peeky La Boo, for the way she teased us with love if we were down in the dumps. Dainty Dish, for the way she pranced like a circus pony to greet us at the gate.

Picabo was born February 8, 1998, at Highlander Kennel in Bethtage, Tennessee, to a long line of American and European champions. Later that year, she arrived at Woodsmoke Kennel, near Bend, Oregon — an appropriate destination, given she was named for Olympic skier and local legend Picabo Street.

Scottie and I fell in love with Picabo when we drove over to pick up Sweetbriar, the second of our two Woodsmoke girls.

Who could resist the charms of one who swept into the living room like Cinderella at the ball, floated to the sofa like Nijinsky, and settled back against the pillows like the Queen of Sheba? When Scottie claimed a corner of the sofa, Picabo moved topside and draped a paw across her shoulder.

When Lightfoot died in 2000, the Woodsmoke breeder called and asked if we would like to take Picabo. We were ecstatic. She turned our grief around. She licked my face when I sang to her.

She and Sweetbriar became fast friends, cleaning each other's ears. When one came into season, the other followed — comfort during their isolation from the boys.

Early in Picabo's show career, a judge commented on how joyful she seemed in the ring, how anxious to please — characteristics uncommon among deerhounds, known for their nonchalance. "She'll give the breed a bad name," quipped the judge.

I was all thumbs, tripping over my own feet, when I handled Picabo at the big Dog Fanciers of Oregon show in Portland on January 20, 2002. The judge shook his head and said, "You don't have to do anything. She's got it."

She waltzed away with a five-point major. The photographer's slate read: "Best of Winners. Best of Breed. New Champion."

Animal Planet was there to videotape the group events. When Picabo sallied forth, Scottie and I hugged tight as kippers in a can. Oh, she was magnificent!

Later, we regretted turning her over to a professional handler. Deerhounds rarely place in group competition anyway, so why entrust her fate to a stranger?

Which is precisely what we did at the end. We had no choice. Her systems were shutting down.

We plague ourselves with unanswerable questions: What did we do wrong? Was her affliction tied to the difficulties of her spay last May, which seemed to diminish her spirit?

Did something in her diet disagree, as one vet advanced? Was she genetically predisposed, as another suggested? All we know is, there's a huge hole in our hearts that can never be filled.

Philosophers and theologians, in their conceit, have long argued against the existence of souls in so-called lesser animals. For Scottie and me, there's no question. Heaven won't be heaven without Picabo.