Friday, September 30, 2011

Terrorized by a Cat

Rusty found us
     The other afternoon Kindu and I headed home after a long, hot afternoon walk. We dropped off our walking partner at her house and both wanted a cold drink of water. We threaded our way between the buildings following a windy path back towards home. Coming around a blind corner, we jumped back when a rusty orange Abyssinian-type cat jumped off the front step of a condo directly at us.
We're being watched, closely!
     We’ve spent all of our dog’s 4 years teaching him to tolerate other animals, but like most basenjis, when another animal moves quickly, his instincts command him to catch it. However this cat displayed such aggression my basenji-boy watched, but didn’t charge the cat. This kitty sensed our apprehension and transformed into the posture of a Halloween cat. Tail straight up, back hunched with hackles raised, he growled low in his throat and stalked towards us.
     With a swift glance over my shoulder, I shepherded Kindu forward trying to avoid an altercation with this very angry feline. I kept him in front of me while checking the cat’s progress. I saw he was still following just 10 feet behind us. I know that animals have their territories, so we hustled across the street and finally saw the chase called off. “Rusty” demurely turned his back on us and returned to his perch on the steps.
     With the solid ribbon of asphalt protecting us, we now felt safe enough to stare back at the cat with wonderment. I had seen this animal on previous walks, but had no idea why today we could not walk our normal route back home. I wondered to myself if this was a mama kitty protecting her litter or if this might be a wild cat afflicted with rabies. Finally deciding to get out of the heat, we turned toward home and soon were cooling off with shared ice cubes. Soon the strange chase forgotten, I prepared dinner and got back to my normal routine.
     About one week later, Gary and I walked Kindu together on another very hot August afternoon. A young lady returning home, opened her front door and guess who stepped out; Rusty! This time although he (or is it a she?) saw the dog and two strangers near his front door, all of the cat’s attention focused on his mistress returning home. He purred loudly as he weaved between her legs nearly tripping her with affection. Remembering our last encounter, I hurried away shaking my head as I went. Nope no kittens and  he obviously wasn’t wild, but well loved. I came to the simple conclusion this was one tough kitty.
Rusty, the terrorist kitty
     I told Gary the story and we laughed together about how Rusty’s bluff had worked so well on Kindu and me. Our boy was about three times the size of the cat and could have given him a run for his money. But over-protective owner that I am, I didn’t want to face my boy getting into a fight with a cat baring tooth and claw. More importantly though, I wanted to avoid taking Kindu in to see the vet to treat cat scratches and bites!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Earliest Memory—Puppies Under the Porch

Mom on porch in Bellevue, Washington
     I looked out my bedroom window hiding behind the curtain trying to keep from being seen myself. My mother had laid me down for a nap and I was supposed to be napping. However, I knew Mom’s routine and suspected that she was just outside the front door chatting with Pete Jacobson. The skies outside my Bellevue, Washington window looked clear and free from rain this afternoon. As I peeked, I saw her with our landlord. This was my cue that I could play in my room without being discovered. They would be busy talking for a good long while past experience informed me.
      I found one of the colorful picture books sitting on the shelf and opened it to the first page. I smiled at the picture of the dog bounding across the page, but squinted as I puzzled over the black squiggles that marked the bottom. With all of my nine other brothers and sisters at school or work, I had no one to decipher the strange markings in the book. I understood what the pictures meant, but what were all these little marks supposed to mean. I couldn’t wait until my big sis, Pam, got home from school and could read me this book once more. Meantime I walked over to the toy box and found my little stuffed dog. I made him jump the way I saw the puppy jumping on the page opened on my bed.
Linda at 2 with big brother Steve
     Returning to the box I found my little girl doll and placed her beside the dog and book. I guided the doll’s hands to caress the puppy and pretended I was outside playing with the puppies just outside under the back porch of our house. How I wished it wasn’t naptime so that I could run outside and play with the dogs while I had them all to myself. But I knew that if I ventured out, Mom would simply usher me back upstairs and into bed for the dreaded nap time that I hated.
      I lay down on top of the covers, leafing through the pages enjoying the pictures and scowling at the letters that made no sense to my 3-year-old eyes. My mind drifted as my eyelids became heavier and heavier. I roused momentarily listening to the birds singing outside and glanced out the window for the source of the sound. Mother knew her babies better than they did themselves. She knew I needed a nap and that fighting me on it would just bring out my stubborn streak. If I’d still been awake, I might have seen her glancing up at my window looking to see if her youngest daughter (at least until Deb was born) could be seen or not.
Linda peeking out from under her bonnet
      Soon enough sleep overtook me. Mom poked her head into my bedroom and saw the scene I’d scattered around myself. She shook her head when she saw the open picture book about dogs, the stuffed animal and the doll still clutched in her sleeping daughter’s small hand. She could have guessed this would be what she would find. Mothers know best!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

When Your Basenji-Boy Grows Up

Kindu in a serious mood

     One of the most bittersweet moments with a dog comes when you realize that your pup has grown up to be an adult. Sleeping all day becomes the norm and playing takes a backseat to a good meal. I believe part of the appeal of basenjis for me is their prolonged puppyhood and how even a dog aged 10 can suddenly revert into a puppy again and run throughout the house like a whirling dervish. However with our current pet basenji, Kindu, his puppyhood has persisted into his 4th year losing much of that appeal along the way.
     For Kindu, the two tough parts of training have involved walking on the leash and not using his teeth while playing. During his first year, many times I lost all patience with his constant biting, jumping up and scratching my arms. All of my pups knew how to control their mouths by the time they were a few months old, but not this strong-willed boy! As Gary would say upon returning from a walk with “the boy,” walking him was a nightmare. More than once he pulled the leash out of our hands, yanked us nearly off our feet or tripped us by constantly weaving back and forth like a snake in front of us. Which is a whole extra problem, there was just no way he would agree to walk behind us or even at our side. This is called heeling and our boy was having none of it.
     This month though, Kindu has surprised both of us with his growing maturity. For years we didn’t allow him to approach children on walks because he would rambunctiously knock them down. Recently on a walk in the park he minded his manners while meeting a group of small children. This is so surprising because Kindu never used to be able to control his impulses. If he wanted something, nothing stopped him. This time he sat quietly allowing himself to be petted.

Kindu heeling for our friends
     Although the signs have been clear, the real test came when our friends arrived from Vancouver for a week of visiting. The first couple of nights we had to use our strongest corrections to convince Kindu that kisses were better than grabbing our friends’ arms or clothes with his mouth. Although he did no damage, he needed to learn that this is not how we treat our guests. It took 2 nights, but by the time their daughter arrived on Monday from Disneyland Kindu had finally learned this hard-won lesson. Martina enjoyed playing with Kindu the way she had always played with our previous basenji, Noelle, when she was a little girl. I breathed a sigh of relief that Kindu could behave himself if I enforced the rules.
     Now my big boy is snoozing quietly beside me on the couch. I push the memories of him stealing the antibiotic ointment from the bathroom drawer tonight. Yes, he’s finally acting like a grown-up dog, except when he gets that wild basenji craziness going and steals something, anything, just to get a bit of that “puppy” attention.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rosie Toes

Mama Bette and her 5 hungry pups

     I picked up the limp, wet body and tenderly cradled it in my hands. With no time to spare, all eyes in the room focused on what I would do next. Bette stared up at me pleading wordlessly for me to accomplish what she could not. I rubbed the newborn puppy with a rough towel hoping it would take its first breath. No luck. As the seconds ticked by I kept working on the pup trying to stimulate that first sign of life. I did not hear the other four pups squealing noisily while I struggled to save their sibling.
Bettenon Gala's Rosebud at 2 weeks
     Rosie, always a bit of a drama queen, made quite an entrance that night. Suddenly she inhaled the life-giving oxygen her body craved the second she separated from her mother, Bette. Now I sighed with relief and began to take stock of the pup’s overall health. A girl, good, that makes three girls and two boys. She was small, probably the runt of the litter, but now trying to wiggle out of my hands. As soon as I made certain the pup breathed freely, I handed her back down beside her mama and let nature take over. Soon she took her first drink of milk.
     Born 1 hour after the rest of the pups, she must have been stuck a while in the birth canal. Gary and our family friend, Phil, had gone out to an overnight grocery for vanilla ice cream to start Bette’s milk flowing. She gobbled it up and we took this as a sign that she had finished birthing puppies. Wrong! As the clock hit 3 a.m. Bette went back into labor and quickly produced this last pup. We all marveled as the runt began pushing the bigger pups out of her way to the milk.
Bette and Rosebud (ages 7 & 5)
     The process started at around midnight and four pups came along in 15 minute intervals. We just about called it a night when suddenly Bette began straining again. We watched for another hour to see if more pups arrived. Rosie turned out to be the last of the litter. Finally sure that Bette and the pups were settled and resting, Phil headed home and Gary and I collapsed into bed. That’s when we noticed just how noisy and squeaky the puppies were. Exhaustion helped us fall asleep as the sun rose overhead. When we woke a few hours later, the first order of the day turned out to be moving the puppy playpen from our bedroom to the kitchen. Now we all could sleep more easily.
     The first day of Rosie’s life we nearly lost her, however as time passed she spent 14 years sharing our home with us. There’s something very special about having a pet be born under your roof and live their entire life with you. “Rosie Toes” earned her nickname because of the wonderful habit she had of dancing around us and greeting us with a basenji baarroooo when we returned home. There are many more stories about these two characters and I hope you’ll stop by my blog again soon to enjoy them.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Gift of Life, an Acceptance of Loss

     One of the toughest parts of pet ownership arrives on the day you must give your beloved friend up. Sometimes this comes as a surprise; sometimes it’s preceded by months of illness. It might happen because you must move or because you can no longer afford your friend. The time frame makes no difference because anytime I’ve had to give up any of my pets, my heart swells and nearly breaks. Thankfully these hard days stand out as punctuation marks between endless days of enjoying my pet’s companionship.
     Noelle arrived on a warm October afternoon, a 5-year-old basenji girl who had spent many days in the show ring. Placing a lead on Noelle’s neck was pure pleasure. She stepped out beside me and loved to strut her stuff just as if she was in the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club show with the whole world watching. We rescued her when her breeder needed to adopt out some of his older dogs, in effect she moved into retirement.
     At first, we both felt lost in our new relationship. I missed Rosie, who had died about a month before we adopted Noelle. Our new dog hadn’t ever lived in a house, splitting her time between the backyard and her crate in the garage. I taught her about the trials of stairs, the pleasures of pillows, and the joys of being the sole dog living on the premises. I lavished her with time and when she seemed anxious, I slipped on her leash and we went walking. In those early days, we went directly to the back of the small, quiet park in our neighborhood. We ran together around the cement circle at the back of the park until she felt safe and secure again. Then we returned home and to whatever we’d been doing. In those first few weeks home we did this half a dozen times a day, helping us both take on a healthy glow.
     Comfort slowly replaced Noelle’s fear. Soon she enjoyed my company, although she ran away from Gary and all visitors to our home. I tackled her "standoffishness" by letting her come downstairs and join the party when she was ready. An edible chew toy went a long way to reinforce this behavior in a positive way. The ache in my heart from Rosie’s loss was slowly replaced by the joy of watching Noelle settle in and begin to enjoy her new life. The more comfortable she became, the more successful I felt in welcoming her into our lives.
     Soon I discovered that Noelle had the sweetest temperament of any of the basenjis I’d ever owned. And although I’d missed her puppy days, I also missed housebreaking problems and destructive chewing while she teethed. She became the special gift of life in our home and helped us heal the holes left behind by Rosie’s loss.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Flying Leap of Faith

Kindu's 1st day home--8 weeks

     I did it again and could hardly believe it myself. I adopted a new puppy, convinced not just myself it was a good idea, but somehow my husband supported me in this impractical idea. As I waited on the bed for the intravenous hydration solution to finish infusing, I watched out the window as Gary played in the backyard with our newest family member, Kindu. Who would have believed it—a basenji that retrieves! Never in 40 years of owning basenjis had I ever seen one fetch more than a few times.
     Watching, it was easy to see Gary’s middle age drop off his shoulders, like a cape flung away on a warm spring day. He smiled and laughed as the little dog dragged the stick under his body, trailing a good eight inches behind him. It made me laugh just to watch. I thought of my inspiration for why this was the right year to replace our last basenji, Noelle, after 15 months with no pet. Pastor Brian’s message on Sunday about the song in Ecclesiastes (put to music by the Birds) hit home, a time for joy.
     That’s what a dog brings into my life, laughter.
     What’s that? You never heard of a basenji! I hear that every time my dogs come up. Dyed-in-the-wool basenji fan that I am, it’s hard for me to fathom not knowing about the breed. It’s just the best kind of dog in the world for me—doesn’t even bark. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great watch dogs, they just go about it in their own quiet way. Well yes, they are a tad bit stubborn, maybe even persistent to a fault. They want their way about everything. And yet, they are such characters that I can never resist them.
Always jumping and playing
    Gary bellowed as Kindu grabbed one of the ties he was using to erect a puppy fence to protect the tomatoes we anticipated planting. First the 13-pound pup runs past the window with a work glove in his mouth. He frolicked by so proudly, trying to grab Gary’s attention by stealing something. Then 6-foot-3 Gary runs past trying to catch the little guy and retrieve it, bad knees and all. I had to hold my breath to keep from laughing out loud at the sight. The sight of them made it easy to remember now why I trusted God that this was His perfect moment to bring a puppy back into our lives.
Trusting God, that’s always a tough one for me. I’d like to think I can do it on my own, independent and all that. However, deep inside I know that everything and anything that comes into my life is simply a blessing from God. Even the health tests that I don’t like so much that have preserved me from a terminal, debilitating disease; even with God’s grace to prosper when I followed His Way versus trying my own path. Purchasing the pup was a leap of faith that God wouldn’t have made dogs so important in my life without good reason. My doctors had advised me to replace my dog as soon as possible. Yes, there is a plan, just not the plan I’d laid out—but the one the Lord has mapped out for me.
By the way, this is Kindu II. Our first Kindu came into our lives as a Valentine’s gift too. I met that first Kindu when he popped out of Gary’s coat pocket one afternoon when he picked me up to go home from the hospital. Ahh, but that’s another story!
Hard day of work in garden

As I watched, Kindu II literally flew through the air, all four running feet off the ground, circling around Gary as he hauled the extra dirt from the garden. Yes, indeed, God provides everything we need in abundance, even models of flying leaps of faith.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why Basenjis?

Our basenji-boy, Kindu, relaxing on the couch after a good game of fetch.
A few days ago I walked my dog as usual.  We weren't alone, but had a neighbor walking with us.  Seeing me struggling to get my basenji boy to walk properly, the friend asked, "Why do you want to have a basenji?"  Now this is a good question because they are a difficult breed of dog to train in the best of times.  I know the answer to this question. It's because of their strong will, some might even call stubbornness, that I find them appealing.This isn't your average sit-stay-down dog. To achieve obedience, you must have a special relationship with these characters.

Simply stated, these dogs are survivors.  Although there are pictures of them in Egypt dating back to the time of the pharaohs, they nearly disappeared altogether.  A British adventurer discovered them living with one tribal group in Africa in the 19th Century.  In the 20th Century a few foundation dogs of the breed made their way to the United States. I lucked out and received my first half-basenji in the 1960s. I've been learning about them ever since and enjoying their special company all along the way.

Kindu retaught me the latest lesson just yesterday: "If he wants attention, he will find a way to get your attention, good or bad."  I've been fighting a cold and have had very little energy and not much interest in playing ball with my dog. Most of the day he was content to lay beside me and take a nap. There comes a witching hour however when Kindu decides it is time to play. That hour usually comes in the late afternoon when sunset fills the sky. Yesterday I sat on the bed folding laundry and could see that he wanted to play while I wanted to finish my chore and lie down. Guess who won this tug of war? First I had to chase him around the dining table to retrieve my socks he'd grabbed from the basket. It became a great game for him to try and grab anything to make me run after him.

Finally I had the clothes safely tucked away in the drawers and collapsed on the pillows with a cough and sigh of relief. Now Kindu got to work in creating a ruckus. First he started digging in his dog bed beside me on the floor. I got up and shooed him away from the activity. He bounded over the bed and ran out into the living room. I reclined again hoping he'd behave himself. Within a minute I heard him opening the dresser drawer. Yes, he knows how to open every drawer in the house when he chooses to. I rolled to the other side of the bed to see what he was up to and discovered the little scamp had my husband's sweater drawer open and was pulling Gary's favorite red sweater out with his teeth. I jumped over and removed his teeth from the knit, firmly closing the drawer and shooing him away again.

Now my cell phone rang and Kindu cocked his head to one side when he heard Gary's voice on the speaker phone. Soon the master would be home and the dog took this to be a sign to play in earnest. Well for the next twenty minutes while we awaited Gary's arrival, the games continued with Kindu favoring opening the sweater drawer over and over to my distraction. I was happy to turn "The Wild Beast" over to Gary when he arrived. My husband calmly pulled out one of Kindu's toys and began a game of fetch. Rather than returning the toy to Gary, our boy decided that I would no doubt love to join in the game so he brought the toy to me. Instead of screaming or crying, I simply laughed and sent the toy flying back out to the living room where Gary stood. Yep, when he's ready to play or walk or most anything else, you'd better be ready to participate because he's going to make sure you do one way or the other.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My First Half-Basenji Girl

                           Ginger loved riding in the car!
     A new dog arrived in my life on my 12th birthday. Mom said she was a boy, so I decided to name her Baron following Mom’s suggestion. Already well seasoned as a babysitter, something just didn’t seem right about her being a boy. We performed a closer inspection and Mom agreed that Baron wasn’t a boy. She already had thought of a girl’s name as well. She said the pup’s color reminded her of ginger and so my new dog transformed instantly from Baron into Ginger.
     At that time, I was a confused mess of hormones with nine older brothers and sisters. I often felt lost in the crowd. Ginger served as everything from my doll to dress up, to my confidant to share special secrets with, to my walking companion who would return at my whistle. Mom and my brother Steve had discovered her at the pet shop and chose her especially for me. They told me that she was half Afghan hound mixed with something else. My mind’s eye envisioned the very sophisticated looking, sleek sight hound, but my physical eyes told me something different.
     Even as a little pup, Ginger sported button down ears, brown eyes that bore right through you and an uncanny independence that showed up as a slight rebellious streak. Her fur nearest her skin looked tan and was finer than baby hair. This inner coat was covered by thicker guard hairs that started blonde, but at the far end were black as night. Her soft-as-velvet coat kept her comfortable all winter and shed profusely in the spring. I patiently waited for Ginger’s legs to stretch out longer and for her fur to take on the long, luxurious coat of the Afghan hound she was supposed to be.
     As she neared her first birthday, an instinct inside me said there was no way she would ever look like I’d originally thought. Still she had the cutest white socks on all four feet. Her tail curled neatly over her back with a white tip on the end. Her body looked more like a Beagle than anything else; square, solid and well muscled at about 16 inches tall at the shoulder. But I’d known Beagles in my life and Ginger didn’t act anything like one. She was nearly always silent and certainly never bayed at anything the way a Beagle would. One day I came home from school and Mom excitedly told me that Ginger had finally barked while she’d been running the vacuum cleaner. She did have a voice, but not one we heard very often.
     Anytime we’d go to the library or bookstore, I’d search through every dog book trying to determine what breed Ginger might be. A couple of years later, I’d nearly given up. Staring at the pages of one more dog book, my jaw dropped open when I turned a page in the hound group. I looked at the picture quickly comparing size, shape and style of the dog on the page with Ginger’s characteristics. I read quickly through the text below the photo and knew I’d found the source dog for my favorite companion. Ginger was half Basenji! Her coloring and coat were different, but her markings, body type and demeanor couldn’t be denied. My girl was a Basenji and my education about this breed was barely begun.