Dedicated to the REAL bosses of the Ashworth household: Soksi and Gizmo ... our Basenjis
January 27, 1999
I've resisted getting a dog for years. Pleas from my dear spouse and children went unheeded, in favor of preserving landscaping, cabinetry and bedroom slippers. Viv and I were on a cruise a few years ago, savoring several significant life transitions (completing graduate school, kids moving out, etc.) when the subject of a dog hit the radar screen again, but with fierce determination this time. I quickly realized to resist was futile ... we were going to get a dog! You win some ... you lose some .... and I had clearly ran out of effective arguments on the dog issue.
Returning home, Viv began her methodical research "engineering" the perfect dog (you've got to know her to appreciate this) for the Ashworth family. Purchases of Microsoft Dogs (tm), various web surfing, and consultations with dog owners narrowed our choices considerably. Finally, it was time to get away from the glossy photos and .jpg files, and look at real dogs. A dog show in Portland provided an excellent opportunity to examine dogs and meet breeders.
Dog shows are full of surprises for the first time attendee. First, you've got to watch where you're stepping. Although the shows we've attended have had nice people assigned to cleaning doggie messes, they will occasionally miss one. Carrying this little doggie gift back to the floorboard of your car will ensure you'll have weeks of not-so-pleasant odorous memories of your dog show visit. Second, and most astounding personally, was hearing all the nice ladies taking about "this bitch" and "that bitch". Now, I recall getting my mouth washed out as a kid for uttering that word at my sister! Yet, these nice ladies throw the word around without a care. If mom ever visits a dog show, I hope she has a fresh bar of soap in her purse.
To make a long story short, we settled on the Basenji breed. Most people have never heard of a Basenji, much less seen one in person. They are a barkless breed (although fully capable), very clean (catlike in their grooming habits) and posseses a rather unique gift for outsmarting humans (there goes the landscaping and slippers).
I'll leave the task of describing Basenjis to the experts. I found the
following on the web and extracted the major points. Enjoy ... more on
our dogs in a moment:
adopted from a web page produced by Andrew Janiszewski ...
The Basenji can be one of the most enjoyable dogs you have ever owned.
He may startle you with his
inquisitive wrinkles or his ability to yodel when he is glad.
Photograph courtesy of Jon Coe
Classification: Group II, Hound
Current AKC Ranking: 61
Size: Ideal height for Basenji's are 17 inches (male); 16 inches
(female). A Basenji male should also be 17 inches from the
front of the chest to the point of the buttocks; 16 inches for a Basenji female. They should be short backed, and appear high on the leg compared to length.
Coat: Short and fine, skin very pliant.
Color: Chestnut red; pure black; tricolor or brindle; all with white
feet, chest and tip of tail.
White legs, blaze and collar optional.
Character: An intelligent, independent, yet affectionate breed, may be aloof with strangers.
For more information: Basenji Club of America, Mary Woodcock,
Rt. 2, Box 255, Sullivan, MO 63080.
And now, a brief history
The Basenji is an African hunting dog, traditionally associated with
the pygmies, one of the oldest races on the planet. The Basenji was a favorite
of the Egyptians also, several mummified Basenji have been found and their
names have been decoded. Today native hunting dogs wear bells, since they
don't bark. Several Basenji were exhibited in the Crufts Dog Show in London
as "Congo Terriers." Sadly these dogs died from distemper. A distemper
vaccine was used and Basenji's [were] successfully bred. The Basenji Club
of America was formed in 1942 and the American Kennel Club registered them
in 1943. The purebred Basenji began to become rare after the native Africans
encountered the white man's barking
dogs, Basenji's began to be crossbred to suit the African's need. In 1987 and 1988 breeders began to try and bring back the breed, it worked and you now have the common day Basenji.
Living with the Basenji
The Basenji will love to find out facts about your house, such as, how garbage spills on the floor, so keep those trash cans locked up during puppy hood, he also will want to find out where the leftovers are put or what soap you use. Your Basenji will love to search through your grocery bags, finding the cookies and meat. [They also insist on smelling your breath, appearently curious about the details of your last meal].
Even though the Basenji is a mighty hunter, he/she will have a good
relationship with other pets, if raised with them. Some people believe
that just because the Basenji doesn't bark, it is mute, this just isn't
so! The Basenji must have a warm place to live, it isn't an outside dog.
Basenji puppies are not afraid of practically anything, they love toasting
themselves dangerously near the fire, so watch out! Basenjis tend to be
stubborn but remember this is an African hunting dog whos breed seems to
be so ancient that it has originated before barking became a standard feature
on dogs. People with kids will obviously ask "does the dog get along well
with children?" If the child is good to the dog, the dog will be good to
Basenjis are always trying to outwit you every chance they get, during training, do not let your Basenji see you get mad. This would be a pleasure to the untrained Basenji. You may have to go into another room and scream and cry, but remember DO NOT LET THE DOG SEE YOU ANGRY! Basenji's must be leashed or in a well fenced yard during exercise. Though the Basenji does not like to exercise this option, Basenjis have been known to jump 8 feet so make sure that your fence is adequate height. Basenjis also love to dig, for the sport of it, to get the cats in the other yard, to go and say hello to the mail man. Many Basenjis have been named Houdini, for the reasons I have just told you, the Basenji is the escape artist of the dog world.
Maybe it's because of the inquisitive wrinkles or the no-dog-odor because the Basenji cleans himself like a cat or it could be the fact he is always willing to please you and be your friend. Whatever the reason, many of us find that we love Basenji's and must have at least one in our lifetime.
Back to the Ashworth Basenjis ...
We worked closely with Jackie and Terry Jones of Dragnquest Basenjis in selecting (engineering?) the right temperament of dog for us. We needed a dog that could be trusted in the home without supervision (a somewhat untypical Basenji trait) and have a mellow disposition. The answer was Soksi, a 7 year old tricolor bitch (sorry Mom) that had finished her dog show career with a stack of ribbons. Soksi was ... and still is ... the perfectly dispositioned dog for our lifestyle. The engineering paid dividends as we knew precisely what dog behaviors to seek.
By this time, I'm thinking this dog thing is pretty easy, and my fears
of up-rooted tulips and chewed slippers were completely unfounded. In fact,
I'm getting so cocky, I'm pushing Viv for another dog! Enter
two year old Gizmo ... also from Dragnquest ... a lean bundle of unfocused,
limitless energy. All the careful engineering that went to Soksi, we basically
neglected with Gizmo. BIG MISTAKE! Although we dearly love Gizmo,
he is a challenge. Viv's lambskin slippers and rugs clearly demonstrate
Gizmo's misguided belief that lambskin is an edible food. Our geriatric
cat is viewed as a delightful play toy that moves (and makes noises) on
it's own. He loves to jump on your lap, but then stands, refusing to sit
or lay. Bunnies don't stand a chance .... his hunting instincts and
speed are no match to a wayward bunny that wanders into Gizmo's fenced
yard. All his teenage antics aside, Gizmo's really a good guy and a welcome
addition to the family.
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