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An Impression of Diamonds

December 08, 1985|VICKI HEARNE

Pat Terry read a book, Isaak Dinesen's "Out of Africa," that had a couple of stories in it about the author's deerhound. The stories were about how noble, gentle and wise deerhounds are, but also about how they have a genuine sense of humor. In one story, Dinesen's deerhound, Dusk, reminded her of the time she had stupidly almost shot her own cat out of a tree. Every time the two of them went by the tree, the deerhound gestured toward it with a chuckle. Think about that. Think about spending the rest of your life with a dog who reminds you of your most idiotic moment.

Terry got herself a deerhound, a female, and named her Dusk. Now, getting a dog because of something you read in a book, especially a dog the size of a deerhound, is a risky business. But in this case it worked out, partly because Terry knows something about dogs and also because it is true that deerhounds are noble, wise and whatnot and have a genuine and subtle sense of humor.

They also have complicated ancestral memories, and are closely related to wolfhounds. Terry has only been in California for a year; Dusk was raised in Connecticut, where for all practical purposes there are no wolves. When they first arrived in Poway, Dusk discovered coyotes, California's wolves. And knew instantly that she was supposed to do something about them. But what? Join them? Hunt them? Teach them knitting? Terry suggested that the best course was a meditative and philosophical one: Dusk should just understand coyotes and leave it at that. This she does.

FOR THE RECORD - 920725
Correction
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 5, 1986 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 5 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
In the "Animals" feature of Dec. 8, the name of deerhound breeder Barbara Birdsall was misspelled.

Dusk also has a wrist gene. When Terry arrived at the house of Barbara Briesall, Dusk's breeder, Dusk's mother, Lesley, took Terry by the wrist and led her to the couch, where she indicated that she should sit down. So Dusk occasionally feels that she's a wrist hound and leads Terry down the hallway by her wrist. She never leads her anywhere in particular--just leads her.

Dusk is . . . well, let's put it this way: No breed is as good as a deerhound at curling up on a couch. (Deerhounds require couches, incidentally.) You come away every time with the impression that you have seen the dog using a long, diamond-studded cigarette holder. You haven't, and when you go back to check you realize that you haven't, but then you come away, once again, with a distinct impression of diamonds. Perhaps because they were originally bred to hunt such elegant animals as deer, they had to develop an answering elegance in order to do their jobs. In any case, when people meet Dusk, they often realize that they had not until that moment understood genuine elegance, the platonic form itself.

Deerhounds are not the only breed with a sense of humor, of course, but they possess a rare ability to express it without losing their elegance. Dusk is even capable of using it to express reproach. One hot day, Terry had to leave Dusk at home while she took her cairn terrier, who had developed a psychosomatic illness, to the vet. Dusk is generally noble about being left behind, but being left behind because of a hysterical cairn terrier is a bit much, even for a deerhound. The one piece of furniture in the house that she is not allowed on is the water bed, and she had never before violated that rule.

Terry returned to find no deerhound. Dusk was, astoundingly, not there to greet her and not in any of her usual places. A few moments of panic followed, but Dusk was, of course, shortly discovered to be waiting on the water bed--waiting there to be discovered. Dusk looked at Terry, waited a few moments to be sure that she got the message, then got up off the bed, smiling with the pleasure of a successful moral comedian.

So I don't recommend deerhounds to just anyone. Very few people have the psychic stamina required to sustain encounters with deerhounds' moral wit.

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