Tag Archives: basenjis

Rite of Succession

It all started when that mouse ran across the floor. But let me start with a little back story.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times before I’m through. A Basenji is not your father’s Labrador. (I don’t know how many of you may remember an advertising campaign some years ago when Oldsmobile introduced their new model, “Alero,” with the catch phrase: “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” I don’t know if they sold more cars with that ad or not, but I co-opted the phrase for my own purposes.) There are a number of good reasons why Labrador Retrievers are the most popular American Kennel Club registered dog breed – and Basenjis are not. I would never presume to imply that one breed of dog is superior to another. I love them all. And “blended” breeds as well. But there’s a reason I have had my little dynasty of Basenjis, instead of any other breed.

A lot of people don’t realize what a contrary individual I can be – most days I’m not that bad, so I might not seem like such an anarchist. But doing what I’m told runs a little counter to my nature, and doing what’s expected of me…oh, forget that. Small wonder I choose dogs that don’t follow orders all that well, don’t engage in typical “doggy” behaviors (like barking), and tend to like to sit back and watch quietly while everyone around them is in uproar.

My second Basenji (and my first male of the breed) was like the uber Basenji. Boomer was the pick of his litter, (the breeder called him her “Clark Gable dog”) destined for great things in the show ring, which would have meant I never would have met him. But he was born insane, and at four months of age he was engaging in extremely risky behavior – leaping onto and off of the dog houses that belonged to his Gordon Setter kennel mates. He ended up with a broken humerus bone, and in a body cast for eight weeks. At the end of which he promptly repeated the behavior…and the injury. By the time the second cast came off, he had gotten so used to running around on three legs that he continued to do so. As a result, his left front leg was always about an inch and a half shorter that his right. He was one crooked little dog.

He was two years old when I met him. It was the first time I ever experienced love at first sight.

After he came to live with me, I discovered some of his other disarming behaviors. Once when I was sitting at my computer and he was sitting next to me (one of the rare times when he wasn’t getting “into something”) I popped a piece of chocolate into my mouth. As I chewed on my chocolate, I looked down and said something to the dog, as he leaned against my shin. He melted. That’s the only way I can describe it. The smell of chocolate on my breath undid him. He just slid to the floor. And then he rolled on my foot. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen a dog do. When I was a kid, my dachshund used to roll on dead lizards. Boomer was more discriminating. If I put styling mousse in my hair, he’d try to roll on my head.

Basenjis, like most normal dogs, do the “play bow,” lowering their front ends to the floor while they keep their butts elevated. Most normal dogs wag their tails when they do this. Not so Basenjis. They are not big on tail-wagging. More on that later. Boomer had his own variation of the play bow. He would put his head down on the floor between his front legs, like he was hiding his eyes. Then he would flop over on one shoulder (with his butt still in the air), and rapidly “dig” with his front feet. Sometimes he would bite at the carpet at the same time. People who didn’t know better would sometimes ask if he was all right. “Of course he’s not all right! He’s a Basenji!” I never actually had to say that. I usually just shrugged.

Both of my female Basenjis did normal play bows, even to the point of wiggling their tails a bit. They were always more emotionally demonstrative than the boys, even though Boomer and Ramses were/are what you’d call “leaners,” leaning against my leg while I pet them. Ramses, however, does the bow exactly like his Great Uncle Boomer. (The Old Guy was too stiff and creaky by the time he came to live with us to do much bowing.)

That brings us back to the mouse.

There was a time when I was living in Kentucky in an old mobile home parked up a “holler” on a farm. Quite rustic. The place had sat vacant for a while before I moved in, with Boomer, and a whole community of mice had taken up residence. Boomer set out to decimate that population. We lived there less than a year, but he racked up six kills over the course of just a few months – when I was watching. He had the run of the house when I was at work, so I don’t know how many he may have dispatched while I was away.

I always knew when he was on the trail of a mouse, not just because he would suddenly try to wedge himself under the stove or between the refrigerator and the wall, but because he would start wagging his tail. It was the only time I ever saw him wag it. Hunting apparently made him twitchy. Or more twitchy than normal. I always found it amusing, although I was a little hurt that seeing me was never motivation enough to cause him to wag his tail.

Of course, he wanted to eat the mouse, once he caught it, and it was an increasing struggle for me to get the mangled body out of his mouth. (Mice carry all kinds of nasty diseases, in spite of being a good source of protein. I didn’t want him coming down with something bubonic.) But, of course, Boomer being Boomer, he came up with a way around me. He’d catch the mouse, one quick crunch, then swallow. A few days later he’d yak up the skeleton and a few other undigestible bits for me to clean up. Charming. I did so love living in the country.

Where I live now is every bit as rural, though not quite as wild as that place. The woods don’t come right up to my back door here, but the mice do still get in. One reason I adopted the “extra dog” was so she’d help keep the rodent population around the house under some sort of control. She’s apparently been slipping.

And these mice are bold. They charge straight across open spaces to get from point A to point B, instead of sticking close to the walls, like they’re “supposed” to. One morning last week as I sat at my computer, I saw motion out of the corner of my eye, and looked up in time to see one of the little bastards go streaking across the floor headed for the living room. Almost at the same time, I realized Ramses was no longer lying in his “spot” in front of the second couch – where I could keep an eye on him from my computer chair. I walked in the living room and saw his back end sticking out from under the end table closest to the end of my brother’s couch – underneath which had probably been the mouse’s destination.

Ramses had dived under the end table in hot pursuit, but the couch had an even lower clearance, and he couldn’t cram himself under that. He would not budge. I had to grab his back legs and drag him out from under the table, then confine him to his crate to keep him from going right back in. Absolutely channeling Uncle Boomer.

You want to know something else, friends and neighbors? That tail was a’waggin’.

That’s my boy!

The Physics of Dog Walking

We learn in physics class that “systems” tend to become more and more disordered as time goes by. Just glance in a teenager’s bedroom from time to time to get an idea of the truth of that law. Sometimes a system can stay in a more or less constant state for a time (called equilibrium) before disorder (called entropy) sets in again. I have observed these phenomena while walking my dog.

People who own Basenjis especially are aware that dogs are geniuses of disorder. They find ways to introduce entropic cascades into any setting imaginable. They’re wizards.

To illustrate how the laws of physics apply to dog walking, I made a few sketches. They’re pretty crude, but you’ll get the point. In Figures 1 and 2 we see a system more or less in equilibrium, usually maintained by a death grip on the leash (and not a whole lot of slack in it). Figure 2 actually shows the system teetering on the brink of failure, as evidenced in Figure 3, where random entropy has been introduced.

Dog walking "at heel"

Fig. 1: System in equilibrium

Dog walking at end of leash

Fig. 2: System in equilibrium…for now

Dog going off on a tangent

Fig. 3: System in entropic failure. Probably a bunny to blame.

In Figure 4 I illustrate the normal way humans walk, compared to the normal way a dog walks if there’s any slack at all in the leash. The X marks the spot where the dog’s nose will become glued to the ground about 3 nanoseconds before your foot is due to arrive. This is called particle collision, and it results in massive release of energy — usually screaming and swearing — and generation of new and strange particles — birds, bunnies, and squirrels all taking flight from the area.

Dog will inevitably walk in front of walker

Fig. 4: Large Nonhadron Collider

And that’s all there is to know about particle physics.

Give your heart to a dog…

One of my Facebook friends has the sad task today of having to say goodbye to one of her basenjis. As I read the comments to her post, I was reminded of a line from a poem I read once, “give your heart to a dog to tear,” but I couldn’t remember if it was one of those rare serious ones by Ogden Nash, or if it was by James Thurber. I “googled” the line and found out I was wrong on both counts. It was by Rudyard Kipling, and it’s titled “The Power of the Dog.” And here it is. Get out a tissue.

The Power of the Dog
by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
But…you’ve given your heart for a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

This is for Ju-Dee and her Phoebe. “The falcon has flown to the sun.”

Basenji to the Bone

After last year’s exceptional drought, we have finally been getting substantial rainfall in this part of Texas. It may not last – but we’re all hoping we will continue to at least get a normal year’s worth of rain this year. Weeds in the yard have been flourishing – especially the ones with spiky leaves and ones that will produce burrs later in the season. And the yard has been wet. Sloppy, splashy, puddly wet.

The Puppy is not pleased. I was actually hoping that over the long dry spell he would lose his terror of wet grass. Ha! His name might as well be Elphaba.

His looks are so eloquent when he sets foot on something wet. “OMG it BURRRNNNS!! Melting, melting, melting! NOOoooooooo!” And he never learns that the faster he takes care of his “business,” the sooner he’ll get to go back indoors. No. He would rather wait until I bow to his wishes and move to the Atacama. I’m sure he would be perfectly happy there, however, I don’t think he can “hold it” quite that long. I’m sorry I ever mentioned the place to him.

From the Land of Not-Quite

I live not-quite in a not-quite city, and it seems to suit me. All my life I’ve been not-quite sure who or what I wanted to be, so I have not-quite “arrived.” I was not-quite part of any group in school, and not-quite a great student – not-quite a rebel and not-quite an angel. Sometimes I feel like I’m not-quite even here. It’s a little like being almost a ghost – I sometimes feel like I can observe while unobserved, like the proverbial fly on the wall. But not-quite.

With people from all sides encouraging us all to “follow your passion,” and “do what you love,” I have not-quite been there or done that. And my problem seems to be that I’m not-quite sure which passion to follow – science or art, writing or painting, growing roses or building web sites. Let’s not forget reading. If I could kick back with a good book all day and make a living at it… heaven.

This past weekend I met someone you might call a guru of authentic living. Patti Digh is a writer/blogger that my friend, Tresha, has been following on line for some time. Tresha sent Patti some of her artwork, and one piece was published in one of Patti’s books – Four Word Self Help. Tresha gave me a copy of the book. Sunday, Patti Digh was going to be at a bookstore in Houston to chat and autograph her books, so Tresha asked me if I wanted to go.

Now Houston is not-quite on my list of favorite places to drive in my car on a warm day. My car is apparently going through menopause, and is prone to hot flashes – especially after I’ve been driving a while. So Tresha and I had to find a place where we could meet where I could leave my car – well away from the torture chamber that is the Houston freeway system. Did I mention that the air conditioner in my car doesn’t work? Yeah, that, too.

Anyway it’s a lot more fun to drive/ride into Houston with someone else, so we met in beautiful downtown Brenham, about an hour from where I live and two from Tresha’s home. And they have a handy public parking lot smack in the middle of the historic district – we sometimes meet there on a Saturday to eat lunch at “Must Be Heaven” and visit the funky little downtown shops.

But back to Patti Digh and why she’s in a piece about the “Land of Not-Quite.” I get the feeling she used to live here, too. Her 37 Days blog explains what happened in her life to cause her to want to leave the land of not-quite behind. She has since published books of collections of some of her blog entries along with contributions from some of her readers (like Tresha’s artwork). Her trip to Houston was part of a book tour for her latest book, What I Wish for You: Simple Wisdom for a Happy Life.

She greets everyone like an old friend, and so obviously is enjoying her life now, it’s hard not to wish for exactly the same thing. Except that nobody’s life is exactly like anybody else’s. None of us have exactly the same dreams or the same experiences in life that may have led us to live apart from those dreams. Let me tell you, not-quite achieving a dream is a hell of a place to be. Suppressing dreams to the point of losing all track of them is like some kind of psychic amputation, complete with phantom limb pain.

I’m struggling to reclaim my dreams, beginning with sorting through the dim storage areas in my mind to find which ones were the most precious and can still make me happy, and how I can rebuild the support structures to hold them up while I learn just how much I’m still capable of doing. For instance, the dream I shoved farthest back in the attic is a horse. I never got over my teenage crush on horses. I discovered that I’m not a natural-born rider, but I never got to spend enough time on horse-back to get good at it. On the other hand, I did get pretty good at falling off. The current condition of my back and various joints makes horse-back riding look like a bad idea.

And I’ve fallen in love with mules. They appeal to the basenji-lover in me. Mules are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for (as are basenjis), disinclined to follow orders that don’t make sense to them (ditto for basenjis), disinclined to let every little thing send them into a panic (as some horses are prone to do), and every bit as attractive. I could devote a whole blog to photos of mules and stories about them – if only I could get to the mules. When I went to the Texas Shootout last May, I felt like I’d found a little corner of heaven, but this year the event has been canceled due to the bad economy and high gas prices. I was planning to spend more than just the final day at the event, force myself to talk to more people, and hopefully get invited to a nearby farm to visit and take more pictures. Not going to happen.

I can’t travel far, especially in the warmer months, because of my menopausal car. It’s not as major a hardship for me as it could be for some people, because I’m quite happy to stay home and keep the Puppy company… and read. If I could make a living reading, that would be another dream come true. It might not be possible to get wealthy from it, but I’m working on learning to write great book reviews so that at least I may be able to get all my books free (and pre-publication) at some future date. I’ve already had several published at Story Circle Book Reviews. I don’t get paid, but I’ve already gotten a couple of free books.

For my third dream (and if I was talking to a magic genie, this would be my third wish), I would love to have a great big rose garden in my back yard. I have ideal conditions – a bald prairie where the roses could all get tons of direct sunlight and great air circulation. I would only grow roses that had won awards for fragrance, like Fragrant Cloud, Double Delight, Mister Lincoln, and that I could get enough blooms from to take some to sell at the weekly farmers market in Bryan. I would make little cards to go with the bouquets with the name and history of the rose, because I think that’s the best way to enjoy roses – knowing their personal histories.

So there it is. My recipe for a happy life. It may yet come about. I feel I may be moving from not-quite to almost.

Child of Velociraptor

This is my "velociraptor"

Ever since I read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and saw the movie, I sensed a kinship between Velociraptors and Basenjis, like maybe they shared a common immediate ancestor. Not exactly, of course, but on some philosophical level. There’s the scene at the end of the movie when the ‘raptor attacks the T. rex — without even pausing to take a breath and think maybe it would be a bad idea.

When I walk out the front door with my current “mini-raptor” I have to make sure I have a good grip on the handle of the flexi-leash and my thumb on the brake. There’s always the chance that one of these might be driving by…

This is his "T. rex"

A Recipe for Beandog Food

Who you calling Beandog?

My soon-to-be-five-year-old Puppy is a vegetarian, for those of you who don’t already know. He has allergies to a lot of the meat products, and some of the plant products, in regular dog food. He’s also allergic to Central Texas, as are many of us humans who live here. So, anyway, he’s on a vegetarian diet. But it’s a drab, boring looking dog food. Obviously, he doesn’t care about such things, because he never, ever turned up his nose at the drab, boring looking stuff. But I’ve always been one of those people who likes to add a little something extra to my dog’s food — mainly, I guess, so I won’t get so bored fixing the same old stuff the same old way day after day.

Originally, the breeder, Susan, suggested I cook a pot of rice and mix in some velveeta cheese product. Yum. He loved that stuff. But it seemed like I was cooking ALL THE TIME — FOR THE DOG. I don’t even cook for myself if I can help it.

Then I saw a segment on the Rachael Ray show about dog nutrition, and about how much sugar and calories there are in the dog treats that we all tend to give our dogs way too many of. The vet that was talking suggested using things like black beans and chick peas instead. And that gave me an idea. I figured I could mix a can of black beans with a can of chick peas and add a little to the Puppy’s food every day for a little extra protein and some flavoring, and it has made us all happy. It’s easy to fix, and he certainly likes eating it, judging by the hysterics he has while I’m mixing his bowl of food every day, and by how shiny his coat is.

So here’s what I do. I open cans of black beans, chick peas, and green peas. I drain all of the black bean juice into a measuring cup and add enough from the other cans to make about a cup of liquid. Then I finish draining the two cans of peas into the sink. I put the black beans in a flat-bottomed bowl and mash them, to thicken the mixture, then I stir in the chick peas and green peas. I divide the mixture into two or three containers and put a couple of them in the freezer and one in the refrigerator. When I fix his food I put a few spoonfuls in his bowl and microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off. Then I mix in his dry food and his allergy medicine. And since I tend to name everything… Beandog Food. Which makes the Puppy a Beandog. As well as a Basenji. Which means he’s odd, as well as crazy. Just how I likes ‘em.

Nest-building in Basenjis

A not-so-scientific study.

I sometimes wonder about the effects of domestication on dog behavior. I mean to say I wonder idly — not seriously. Because seriously, sometimes dogs are so funny, I wouldn’t want to change them. Mine have always been invaluable boredom-alleviators, as well as entertainers and anti-depressants. Speculating on why they do the things they do provides me with hours of amusement. Reading a book on dog behavior by some expert would just spoil the whole exercise.

Take nest-building. The Old Guy, of course, was Chief High Nest-Builder and Blanket Wrestler. He would scrunch his blanket all over the living room floor in an effort to get it wadded to his exacting specifications. I never knew where he would end up — I always had to just go out of my way as much as necessary not to disturb him when I left the room.

Now it’s The Puppy’s turn. He used to be satisfied with his blanket folded neatly on the floor next to the sofa — truthfully, he used to be satisfied with curling up on the carpet, but the end of winter was pretty chilly here, so I thought he might like a little more insulation. (And, yes, I may be the only person on the planet with basenjis who don’t live on my furniture. When I moved in with my dad and brother, the dogs had to learn a whole new set of rules — The Puppy, of course, grew up as a floor dog.) After months of curling himself up neatly on the folded blanket, said Puppy one day started channeling The Old Guy. He wasn’t happy with a merely rumpled blanket. He had to get it all the way into a tight little wadded-up bundle. Which got me wondering — do dogs in their “natural state” go to such extremes? You would think that beyond a certain amount of “fluffing,” the return on energy expended would bottom out. But I don’t know. Or maybe I’ve just had some especially particular nest fluffers. Or maybe the domestication process — all that selective breeding for being nice to people and not eating them and all — sort of shorted out a few circuits and now they just don’t know when they’re “finished” with their nest. I wonder if I could get funding to do a study. Hmm.

The Old Guy in his "bankee"

Basenji Paradise

The ancient Egyptians had an expression they used when a Pharaoh died. They said, “The Falcon has flown to the Sun.” As metaphors for death go, I kind of like it.

Basenjis, being far from divine, don’t do anything in a falcon-like fashion, and they certainly don’t fly. Neither do they cross bridges — rainbow or otherwise. No. Basenjis go to the Dry Yard. Where it is always eighty degrees and sunny; where the grass is soft, the breeze is fragrant, and the bunnies are slow. This morning we said goodbye to the Old Guy. He was sixteen, blind, always cold, shaky on his feet. Now he’s in the Dry Yard forever, with Her Royal Highness his little girl (and mine), his older brother Crazy Eddie, and the notorious Miz Thang. Running around like goofy puppies, lying in the sun, more lying in the sun…

I think the Puppy will adjust to being an only dog. There may be another companion in his future, one closer to his own age. But not yet.

More about the Arthritis Walk

2009DogWalkFlyerThere’s just over a week to go before the Bryan/College Station Arthritis Walk and Dog Walk. The Brazos Valley Kennel Club is sponsoring a water stop, which is also the “Dog Zone,” a special table for registering Walk participants who have dogs with them. There will be at least one kiddie pool for dogs to drink out of or walk through to cool off, and there will be other containers for more “discriminating” water drinkers. BVKC is welcome to put out Club related literature, AKC brochures, etc.

Since my “Old Guy” is the “Dog Walk Hero,” I’ve set up a team called “Chief’s Doggone Walkers.” Kind of lame, I know, but obviously dog-related. This shortened link will take you to the team page if you want to join the team. http://tinyurl.com/yaqnxqu

There are several ways to participate. You can join the team and make a donation on line. You can join the team and not put an amount in the donation box, and bring a check made out to the Arthritis Foundation (or cash) to the walk. You can join the team and mail a check to the Arthritis Foundation. You can start your own team. Or you can make a general donation to the walk from the Walk home page. This is the link to the home page. http://tinyurl.com/yc48vo4

If you want to join the team but can’t come to the walk, and you want to mail a donation, there is a form you can print out from the team page to send along with your check so that Chief’s team will get the “credit.” If you want to join Chief’s team, there is a link on his page to “Join our team,” which will take you through the steps to register, and you will have your own “member” page. On that page there should be a “My to do List” menu where you can load and print the off line donation form to mail with your check.

And since someone already asked, donations made to Chief’s team go to fund research on arthritis in general, which includes dogs — not just dogs.