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!