Monday, December 30, 2013

We Go Round in Circles

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Lately my thoughts wandered to one of the basic differences between canines and humans. We tend to be linear creatures; we stand up straight, we lie down in a line, when we sit we form an angle. Canines conversely are quite circular in inclination. They run in circles, they like circular beds versus our rectangles, they lie down forming a circle often with nose covered by tail. And when they choose that special place to take a nap, they must turn a minimum of three circles before plopping their bodies down. Some require many more before trusting the surface to hold their weight.

So if humans are linear in nature and canines circular, what difference does it make? I want you to think about the impression another person would make on you if they chose to circle their chair three times before sitting down? You might think they were indecisive or even a bit odd. Yet every time Star chooses to turn from three to five circles before lying down I find myself smiling and sometimes laughing over her shenanigans.
Kindu dancing circles at 8 weeks old

Kindu cracks me up all the time, his circular nature brings us back to the same thing more times than I can recount. His favorite game is running fast around the dining room table. He likes this because he can keep just enough space between himself and us that he can tease us. Almost daily he runs off with a sock, paper towel, Gary's cap or a potholder and plays keep away around and around and around again, circling the dining room table. The mischief and delight shine brightly from his eyes as he makes his humans run in circles, abandoning their all-too-human straight lines.

When you watch a predator, whether canine or feline, chasing prey in the wild, you will notice that rarely does the chase go in a straight line. Whatever is being chased makes fast turns attempting to evade tooth and claw following way too close behind. Although our clocks are round, we measure time in a linear fashion as well with well-defined pasts, presents and futures. As 2013 draws to a close and a long calendar of 365 days loom ahead in another straight line for 2014, it may just be time for us to take a lesson from our canine buddies.

It's funny because Kindu's sense of time is not at all circular. He is purposeful in how he uses his time. He lives not in an hour, or minute, or second, but confines his sense of time to NOW. The past is the past for him and he gives no consideration whatsoever to the future. NOW might be a good time to take a walk, to check out what is happening in front of the house, or the perfect time for a sunbath on the patio. He never has a failure of a year or a day or even a minute, no regrets. He stays in the moment without holding a grudge about anything or planning events for the future.

As a result, he (and every other dog I've lived with) lives a contented, happy life. He never gets caught in the circular arguments about should haves or could haves. I, on the other hand, judge myself nearly daily and let it be enough said that I rarely measure up to my own standards. 

So maybe I should start turning circles when selecting my seat versus when analyzing my past, present and future. Learn to live in the moment and put a stop to the circular dissatisfaction with my life. It is no wonder Kindu and Star almost always are in good moods, after all, they do live with "straightforward" humans. Watching us go around in circles must be amusing for the dogs to watch.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Part 3 - Working with "Little Angel" towards a Basic Obedience Certificate

By Linda Grupp Boutin

So with Jack and Evelyn observing from the hill above, Seraph and I began really working on her obedience training. Our first class had been a total fiasco. First off, I had to understand "Right Turn, Left Turn." Being challenged over left and right anyway, it took me the whole class to tune in on the brand new wedding ring on my LEFT finger. Now I didn't have to hang back and watch which direction the other students turned (which just like me was wrong half the time at least), but just notice which finger had a ring and turn the appropriate direction. First hurdle handled, Linda's directional challenge overcome!

And the late afternoon, 15-minutes of "dedicated" training time continued day after day, week after week, month after month. First Seraph learned how to sit on command, eventually understanding that every time that I stopped walking, she was expected to sit attentively at my left side and not on my foot! The attentive aspect of her sit was important because this put her in the proper position to move on to the next and more difficult command. While at my side, I was to wave my hand in front of her and tell her, "Down!" 

The sit had been challenging enough, but my "Little Angel" had no desire to lay down in the midst of so many dogs she wanted to socialize with. I worked for weeks on this one with Sam giving me a new tip to try each week while working with Seraph. At home, she did not object to laying down. In class, it was a flat refusal every time. Oh the joy I felt the first time she agreed to follow my command in class and lay beside me. Maybe this just might be possible!

Successes built more successes until Seraph began listening to me both on the leash and off. Don't get me wrong, she still remained a full-blood basenji willing to go her own way, but at least she listened and wondered if she should follow my idea. We had an easier working relationship that grew with every effort I put forth to reach my basenji-girl.

Then one evening it was time for our basic obedience test. Seraph and I took the ring and she performed every command, only hesitating a little over the down command. Gary stood outside the ring with our new male basenji pup watching. They embraced us in a family hug when we passed the test with flying colors.

So what next? Advanced obedience, of course. Did Sam say that involved off-leash training? I could only imagine...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Part 2 - Little Angel's Going to School

By Linda Grupp Boutin

So a few weeks later, I took Seraph on a car ride to the parking lot at Grossmont Mall. Such a beautiful San Diego night could not have been imagined. Balmy, 75 degrees, with a light breeze, I had no idea what to expect. Sam, a former SDPD dog trainer, gave us a demonstration of all he could teach a dog to do. His big German Shepherd showed off his knowledge of German commands, his daughter's little, white Heinz 57 replicated the big dog's moves in miniature version. Sam kept emphasizing that all this training could be accomplished in just 15 dedicated minutes per day. "And if you can't give your dog at least 15 minutes per day, then you should not even have one!" Hhummpphh, never thought about it that way. Why does school always have to involve a guilt trip?

After the demo, he requested that we return the following week with a training collar and 6 foot long leather leash. Okay, now I had to raise the money for supplies as well as the fee to attend the class! Meantime, Seraph has been trying her best to get into trouble and distract me from what Sam had been saying. He eyed his new students (was that the dogs or the people?), looking at our rag tag line of whimpering, whining, willful pups.

There was a sedate German Shepherd or two, a pair of Golden Retrievers (also not behaving), an antsy poodle, making a total of 20 or so people with their pets. Absolutely no one but me had a red & white, curly tailed, barkless basenji straining at the end of her leash trying to get who knows where...I felt a bit out of place. When Sam walked up to me and said, "A basenji, huh, in obedience class? This should be interesting." He turned on his heel and walked to the next pair of students. This did not give me a feeling of confidence.

Meantime, while we waited for the first class we needed to begin walking our dogs for 15 minutes per day. We were to keep the animal on our left side at all times, keeping the leash loosely in our left hand for corrections, holding the far end of the leash in our right hand. Our dogs were to hold their heads up with no sniffing of the ground. When they did try to sniff, we were to say firmly, "Seraph, no sniff," give a small correction and get them back in the proper position with head up high.

I had invested quite a lot of our food money for the month into this "dog school," so I tried to take the whole matter seriously. I rose at 5:30 to make it to work by 7 a.m. every work day. Then after work I ran home to make dinner, study and get ready for my community college class at 7 p.m. Returned home at 10 and fell into bed to catch enough sleep to make it through the next day. Between working full time and going to school full time at night, my schedule overflowed. Sam might have thought 15 minutes per day should come easily, but for me I had to squeeze other activities to fit this in.

But my success with this dog and marital happiness depended on me completing this commitment. So when I arrived home from work and released Seraph and Ginger from their kennels, the first order of business was to figure out how to put the crazy training collar on, line the Little Angel up on my left side, and march around the yard for 15 minutes trying desperately to keep this little sight and scent hound on a loose leash by my side with no sniffing...our landlords who lived at the top of the hill above our little house must have been laughing out loud watching the proceedings below.

(to be continued)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Part 1 - Petite Seraph - My First Purebred Basenji

By Linda Grupp Boutin

I received a very special engagement gift from my fiancee, Gary, many years ago. She had a curly tail, sported a red and white coat, and wore four white socks with a white-tipped curly tail. Sound familiar? Yep, you guessed right. My hubby-to-be gave me my first purebred basenji girl. I named her Petite Seraph and sent her registration paper in to the AKC. I thought of her as my "little angel" and she was so very cute at 3 months old; all wrinkles and loose skin and bouncy energy. As you can tell from the name I selected, I was a classic novice basenji owner with so very much to learn about this unique breed.

At this time, Ginger, my first dog, still lived with me. She was about 10 years old when Seraph arrived and the two of them became friends immediately.
                   Ginger watching the road
Being 1/2 hasenji, Ginger had posed her fair share of problems when it came to training. You could not keep this girl in an enclosed yard because she could jump any fence. She would back up far enough to get a running start, then gallop as fast as possible to where she'd decided to jump over. She continued her run right up the fence until she grabbed the top with her front paws, then hoisted herself to the top, followed by a quick jump over. She taught herself how to do this because the cats next door sat on top of our block wall fence teasing her. The first cat who saw Ginger run up the fence to balance beside them atop the block wall must have been shocked!

So I had gone through tough dog training with Ginger, but couldn't have been more unprepared for a new marriage, in a new town, with a new husband AND a purebred basenji! By the time we married in July, Seraph turned 6 months old and had decided opinions about how she planned to spend her days. We moved to Lakeside in San Diego County and began rehabbing the house we rented while living there. Construction materials rested beside dog food and boxes containing all our possessions. The fighting about Seraph and her bad behavior started before we celebrated one month being married.

We spent one month living on our savings and wedding gifts working daily to put our one bedroom house into good order. Ginger and Seraph watched from the couch while Gary and I tore down layer after layer of wallpaper, repaired and painted walls, hung a new ceiling in the living room and redecorated both the bathroom and kitchen. Soon our little house shone like a new penny and we began to look for jobs. This is when the trouble started.

Fast approaching her first birthday, Seraph's hormones began stirring. Basenjis come into season only one time per year, typically in October. So our girl needed to be protected from getting bred by one of the local male dogs roving the neighborhood. I planned on taking our basenji girl to dog shows and competing, so I took this responsibility very seriously.

While we were away at work, we confined Seraph to the bathroom with the door shut tight. She didn't like this limitation and when I got home from work that afternoon, found our newly repaired and painted bathroom wall shredded by Seraph's iron hard teeth. I sat on the bathroom throne, held my head and cried until Gary got home. When he saw the mess, he roared.

He already had erected a chicken coop on the side of our property and filled it with several hens and a rooster. He decided the solution was to build a dog run and to save on materials connected it to the side of the coop. With no fence around the property, our girls could be safe all day in nice, new kennels while we worked. Yes, the basenji girls were safe, but we could not anticipate what Seraph would come up with next. While we worked, she did too. When I arrived home that afternoon, she had dug a nice, neat tunnel from her kennel into the coop. I found feathers flying, the dog chasing the hens, and half of our hens deceased from Seraph's attack.

This was the last straw, I had to find a solution to getting her behavior under control. This dog, my engagement gift, caused almost all the disagreements Gary and I had in our married life. I wondered whether she was worth all the trouble and strife she was causing. While discussing it with my friend, Mary Jo, she told me of a dog obedience class led by her friend Sam at a nearby mall. A solution to our problem, my iron hard will up against our "little angel's." Our basenji girl would soon be marching off to school!

(see Part 2 for the continuing story)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Baby Girl

By Linda Grupp Boutin
Alex with newborn Rudy and Star

Star has been changing lately. It seems she finally accepts that she has a place in the pack and a forever home. She always claims the spot in the middle of the loveseat between Gary and me. Depending upon how he feels, Kindu may sleep on Gary's lap or take up most of the couch, legs fully extended. He can be the epitome of the independent basenji, aloof and perfectly happy to sit by himself. 

Our basenji girl prefers to be with someone, preferably touching in some way. Of all the curly-tailed basenjis I've shared my home with, Star is the only one that I have nicknamed Curly. And she loves it when I call her this or sing a song about her. Sometimes the name gets stretched to Curly Girly and that's when she acts especially cute. But by far and away, she loves to be called Baby Girl. And I like calling her that too.

Dog trainers advise owners to name their dogs one-syllable words. Simple, concise and easy to call, like Star. Nicknames don't come up because you aren't supposed to use any other name but their usual name. However, basenjis are smart enough to respond to many words, including nicknames. So Star and Kindu know many different names and can often read my mood by which name comes to mind first.

I love seeing Star finally finding confidence and her place in our little pack. She is relaxed these days, often dancing around the house, play bowing to get Kindu to play, just enjoying life. I've seen this happen before with other dogs we've rescued. It is almost like she realizes that her life has taken a turn for the good and embraces the joy in it.

I look forward to a day when I will go to my forever home with the Lord. I understand and share in the joy Star feels as she dances freely and happily around our home. Some days I dance in the joy of that same knowledge, knowing there is a place where I am accepted by Our Father just the way I am; sins, scars, bruises and all. I hope some time in your life that you can share in the joy of this knowledge too!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Living Free or Choosing the Settled Life

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Sometimes Kindu lies on the floor striking the pose of a lion; smaller of course, but fierce and tough and unpredictable. He makes me think along those lines with the regal uplift of his chin and the contemplation in his deep, dark brown eyes. At times Star looks a bit like a deer and other days they might both remind me of foxes. Friends have described them as all of these other animals.

Our basenji boy joined me tonight as I enjoyed a special by Nature on PBS. It explored the true story behind the "Born Free" book and movie released in the early 1960s. I turned 10 the year the movie was released and wished so much that I could go and see it at the theater. Alas, I never got to see it on the big screen, but I read about the story and came to love Elsa through the National Geographic magazines that arrived in our mailbox each month. This was the first magazine I came to love as a child. Great photographs, interesting stories and travel around the world, all included in one gorgeous publication, usually accompanied by a large, folded map of some part of the globe.

My dogs were not born free and have lived their whole lives in a comfortable domesticated state. Star came into this life on a cold January night in a shower lined with newspapers and softened by blankets and towels.
Star, between her brothers, with Mom Noelle
I know they would like experiencing the freedoms of living without boundaries, but there would be much from our life they would miss as well. Soft beds, regular meals and ice cookies spring to mind. Although Kindu is more impetuous and willful, I believe that Star would be well able to fend for herself living wild.

She has the heart and instincts of a hunter. Nothing is missed by her watchful eyes and she catches on quickly to new situations and circumstances. While Kindu jumps in with four feet flying, Star assesses the situation then decides how she will react. Both strategies have advantages and pitfalls, but I must agree with Star that a measured approach is often best. People tend to choose different strategies for how to try new things too.

I just read an article about dogs and how the bond with their owners shares much in common with how people bond with their infants. When we picked up Kindu at just 8 weeks old, he epitomized the image of a confident pup. Over the months I learned from the breeder that his puppy name at his birth house was "Truck," but I believe that "18-Wheeler" might have been more appropriate. Obviously the breeder was thinking of a "Mack Truck" when she named this basenji boy!

We decided to share our new pup with our family, so rather than driving straight home after we picked up Kindu, we headed over to my brother's house. My 13-year-old nephew, Alex, connected immediately with the pup and rough-and-tumble was the name of their game. Soon they were skittering across the kitchen tile floor, grabbing, chasing and teasing one another. Even 5 years later the two of them have a great time when they get together.
Alex and Star resting up after a play session

So I must admit I'm pretty tightly bonded with my dogs. They bring comfort and joy and a healthier lifestyle into our lives. Some researchers say canines and humans have worked and lived together for over 15,000 years. I don't know about that, but I am grateful for my 4-legged friends that have been a part of my life since I was small.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Let's Go Surfing!

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Recently Gary started calling Kindu "Surfer Boy." This does not mean that our basenji boy has taken a sudden liking to water, rather it refers to how his very thick coat this summer is now highlighted blonde by the sun. His daily sunbaths in Southern Californa has changed his coat color from completely red or white to a nice shade of blonde highlighting the red beneath.

Note the blonde highlights at the back of Kindu's leg!
So our boy has a nickname and Sunday at church a friend said the basenjis are our "fur babies." It was Father's Day and family and children were on everyone's minds. Since we never were blessed with children of our own, our pets get tons of TLC from us. Kindu's favorite outdoor spot is watching out the back gate checking on all the comings and goings of Flora Lane. Sometimes neighbors occasionally give our kids some treats. The dogs are happy, but when they get upset tummies from the unusual food we are not. But it all works out and everyone around us know Kindu's happy "Barooo" when they stop by.

Our fur babies are noticed wherever we go. People see a dog they don't recognize and want to know what they are. Many a passerby has gotten the short answer about our "barkless dogs" and how they clean themselves like cats. Those who show more interest learn about their origins in Africa and how they are only semi-domesticated. The long lecture includes a bit about their pictures being carved into the Egyptian tombs and the fact that leopards kill barking dogs in the vicinity of Africa where they come from now.

So Surfer Boy is enjoying the summer sun and continues to make a splash wherever he goes. I can't imagine life without him and his sister, Star. They bring such joy into our lives, along with the occasional challenges and trials. I guess you could say our pack is now melded together and we are a cohesive unit. Five years with our basenji boy have flown by and I foresee many more happy days ahead. I am so grateful that Our Creator took the time to give us humans the dog. They are one of those creations that make my heart sing, even if a bit off key. Just like Kindu's Baroooo!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Singing in Her Sleep

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Adopting an older dog who has been working as a show dog can be an intimidating experience. Sometimes they are inscrutable and learning their signals and needs frustrating to the extreme. Over time, the adopted dog gains confidence in their new home. They begin to predict what will happen when, what is allowed and what is not, when meals and bedtime can be expected.

We are now 18 months into the saga of bringing Star home and integrating her into our pack with Kindu. She still can be very insecure and unsure of herself despite our best efforts to help her understand that this is now her "forever home." Occasionally she jumps when the unexpected happens or draws back afraid when someone new stops by. So at times I wonder whether she has come to feel at home or not. It makes me sad to realize that she feels so out of place...

After years of having our furry babies sleep beside us, we have seen many dogs experiencing dreams and even nightmares. Most every dog we have ever had will be sound asleep beside us with all four feet twitching and we know they are having a blast running through a field in their dreams. Once in a while we will hear them crying and obviously suffering fear in a nightmare; we always wake them up from those times.

What we had never had happen before the other night assured me that Star is now happy in her new home. Kindu had been restless all night with a tummy ache and the dogs kept waking us up. Then Gary realized that Star was humming as she slept. Now normally she is a very quiet basenji with just a little bit of whimpering when she wants to come in. But this night she was making the happiest and most unusual sounds that we have come to call humming. We let her sleep and enjoy whatever it was she was dreaming about, but it's been obvious that recently she feels more comfortable with the environment we've provided for our little companions.

So the saying goes, "Let sleeping dogs lie," and on this particular night we did let Star lie and enjoy the feeling of finally being at home with Kindu and us.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Can Dogs Smile?

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Have you seen the posts on Facebook and YouTube, dogs smiling with their pearly whites glistening? I must say, those particular shots were never what I considered a smile. Being pragmatic about canine nature, teeth showing on a dog's face usually signals a snarl to me, not a happy dog. So when Star began flashing her odd "smile" at me, I tried to convince her that when she did this I didn't like it too much. I called it her "ugly face."

For a time, she got the message and stopped that particular behavior much to my relief. However, when you pet her in the way she loves, it seems Star cannot help herself and her toothy grin appears. I shake my head and wonder how in the world she ever came up with this odd way of doing things. I've never captured this look in a photograph and I doubt I will ever try.

After a year and a half, Star remains unpredictable for me. When I tried to introduce her to Gary's uncle last week, she shied away and responded very negatively. Just a few days later at our house, she would not leave his side to the point that when they went walking Uncle Bernie carried Star's leash! She had the best of times while he visited because the more she snuggled up to him insisting on constant petting, the more he obliged. We call this around here, "Star Heaven." She sparkles while receiving those pets around her ears.

Tonight she and Kindu both got washed by Gary. When we brought Star home that first day, we bathed her at a friend's before driving home with her. As I have mentioned before, basenjis abhor water. Our girl approaches it like it is dangerous. She has learned however the benefits of bathing. The payoff comes in the form of less itchy, more comfortable coat and skin. So tonight she fought less and enjoyed the sensation of having shampoo massaged into her coat. She still detests water in her face, but seemed to enjoy some of the rest of the cleaning-up process.

After drying off, she snuggled up with me to enjoy a concert at the White House of Carole King music. Sometimes she glanced over her shoulder at my sour notes (yes I sang along with every song), other times she flashed me that smile of hers this time in an effort to keep my hand petting her. And it finally came to me, while preparing for the show ring dogs do learn to show off their teeth to the judges. Tonight I just enjoyed her shenanigans and didn't judge what might be going on in that basenji brain of hers.

There is a process we go through while learning about our pets. We get to know one another and begin to be able to predict how the other will respond. Our furry companions learn our habits too. Kindu knows when I am preparing to leave the house, take him for a walk, or prepare a meal. He watches me and Star keeps an eye on him and is learning fast. She knows keys are used with doors, leashes precede a walk, and most evenings we stay home.

So we continue the getting to know you process around here while Star gains confidence that she has found a forever home that she loves. I will always wonder about what happened to her during those years before she came to us. But every positive experience leads to a more confident, relaxed basenji girl. And that does make me smile!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cuddled Your Pet Today?

By Linda Grupp Boutin

     Over the last two weeks, we cuddled our basenjis more often and with appreciation for the special role they fill in our lives. Kindu pretends that he doesn't like to be held, petted and cuddled. But late at night before we retire for the night and early in the morning, our independent boy loves to be held like we did when he measured only 8 pounds. On the other hand, Star makes no bones about loving every pet, stroke, or word of affection. Gary has taken to calling her "Skin" because whenever she is in the house she is nuzzled up beside one of us for sure. And let me tell you, this basenji girl really radiates the heat; perfect for those really cold nights!
     On April 15th while watching the chaos in Boston, I had one dog snuggled up on each side of me. The mere act of petting a special animal friend lowers blood pressure and releases stress-relieving chemicals for both the human and the animal. So doctors have learned that owning a pet can promote health and well being. I love sharing my home with my 4-footed friends. They make me laugh, they keep my secrets, they keep me company no matter how bad a mood I might be in, they are there for me whenever I call.
     The down side of pet ownership is that they require some things too. This week I am planning a visit to the veterinarian for annual vaccinations. I am hoping to learn what the vet recommends for a supplement to help both dogs with hip soreness. With both Kindu and Star over 5 years old, they are officially senior dogs. Coupled with the fact that both dogs are fixed, I must keep a close watch on their calories and weight to keep them in good health. Teeth need to be kept clean. Fleas must be kept off the dogs and out of our house. And of course, there are the 3-4 walks per day, picking up after the dog waste, and taking care of Kindu's inevitable upset tummies.
     Although the money part can get tight, I find the sacrifice to feed and take care of my pets to be 100% worth it. If you want a friend loyal to the bone, get a dog. You know my preference is a basenji dog, but I must admit they are tough dogs to raise and train. But now, with 2 adult animals that listen when I insist they do, all those years of chasing Kindu around the dining room table are paying off. When I see the bliss on their faces when I pet them just right, I smile and love them all the more.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Couch with a View

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Kindu and Star use entirely different methods for dealing with the outside world. In Tae Kwon Do, our master instructor called this "environmental awareness." For our basenji boy maintaining a careful watch on the outside environment is critical. He paws the window blind covering his favorite viewing spot until we raise it up for him to maintain his watch. This is the center pillow on our couch and he places his front legs on the top cushion and leans into the fabric. He knows jumping on the top of the pillow is strictly forbidden and his back paws must remain firmly on the couch seat. How I managed to train this one behavior reliably is beyond me, but somehow he learned and follows this one lesson. The payoff for him gives him the chance to see the world outside.

Star, exactly the opposite, could care less about what is happening outdoors. She never bothers to glance out the window and looks mystified about why Kindu spends hours gazing at the world going by. When she is outside, her only goal is to get back inside to see what is going on with her people. She spends her hours observing everything that Gary or I do. While the boy focuses his energies where he has noticed cats, bunnies, even the stray child on a razor fly past, Star just wants to be a part of whatever we are doing, especially if food can be smelled or seen.

I find that I see similar behavior in the humans I interact with, some are caught up in their personal dramas and rarely venture a thought about what is happening in the larger world. My hairdresser and I discussed the lead up to the Iraq War. We both lived through the same times, but she had no idea how we got into it or why. I summed up some of the important points and that we marked the 10th anniversary of it just last week. She didn't really care too much about it, just listened politely as I spoke. I gave up, feeling a bit exasperated. I am sure that Kindu thinks Star should pay a bit more attention to the sidewalk too, but unless she is standing on it, she doesn't notice.

I think God must look at us small creatures and see we have trouble seeing the larger picture too. Tiny, insignificant disturbances throw us completely off. For some folks, the smallest of physical challenges stop them cold. For others, amputations don't slow them down. So how about you, do you take up the watch and keep your eyes open, aware of God's wonders around us. Or like Star, do you remain focused inside the house, watching carefully over your family, but maybe with your thoughts centered on the Eternal. There are advantages to each strategy that's for sure. Happy Easter and have a blessed upcoming year walking with the Lord.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Second Fiddle

Star looking beautiful, as usual
By Linda Grupp Boutin

Kindu and Star both enjoy selected seats on the couch. The very best position, they both agree, is easily the place which Gary has just left. Claiming that spot while he is away bestows the highest prestige and makes the one who claims it Top Dog. Whoever doesn't get it becomes second fiddle.

Things change when we all sit on the couch together. In this case, the seat on Gary's lap receives Kindu's adoration. Star on the other hand prefers to sit right smack dab in the middle, snuggling up between both Gary and me. Sometimes she gets a bit over-protective of this seat, growling her unhappiness when it is time for them to go outdoors for a sun bath. We continue to work on Star and her manners. Sometimes she wants to treat us like another young member of the pack, not the Alpha male and female we envision ourselves to be. Fancy that, a basenji who sees herself as top dog, humphh.

Star truly does play second fiddle many time to Kindu's Top Dog. So much larger, he loves to throw his weight and height around. Occasionally he pushes it too far, then Star gives him a good nip to remind him that she is three years older than him. He yelps, then it is back to the wrestling match, chase each other fast around the room, more wrestling, another chase until Gary or I yell for them to stop. Pleas ignored, I resort to grabbing the water spray bottle and give them a squirt. Given that basenjis hate water, that usually cools things off.

When I think about it, many times this is how we behave with God. He asks us to follow, we ignore, He cajoles, we mess up, finally a water squirt hits us from behind, we listen up and follow. One wonders why we don't just comply from the get-go, but then again we are the children of that rebellious first couple, Adam and Eve that is. So I dare you, how about quitting playing second fiddle and "try out" for the Lead Violinist's seat?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Confused Greetings

By Linda Grupp Boutin

I disappeared from the dogs for a week in January, laid out flat on my back in the hospital. I expected an uproarious greeting from Kindu and Star when I returned home. Instead I saw puzzled faces, wrinkled brows knitted in concern. Slowly they realized I was back home and though happy to see me they seemed more confused than anything else.

I thought about what this had all meant to them from their perspective. Whisked away in the middle of the night, they must have wondered where I had gone. One thing canines prize above all else is predictability. There are stories of dogs who knew the time of day to expect the return of their people, greeting children at buses, waiting impatiently at the door for a young woman. Sometimes even after their master passed away, the faithful dog stood guard yearning for their person's return. It's hard to explain to a dog why their best friend might go missing. They feel it, their hearts break, but they don't have the words for it.

Thankfully my basenjis have welcomed me back into the pack. Star has taken up a new habit of molding her body alongside mine, always with the goal of resting her head on my shoulder. Kindu has started napping beside me while I rest, guarding his spot from his packmate and growling to warn her off from stealing his spot. It's interesting how quickly they fell back into a routine and have no worries about any more absences.

Ultimately I always am happy to receive warm greeting from most everyone. As I return to my normal activities, I have experienced lots of hugs and encouragement from friends and family. This has led me to a renewed sense of purpose and desire to make the most out of every day. Sunsets have taken on new vibrancy. Pictures on Facebook get my attention. Food tastes extra delicious especially when prepared by caring hands especially for me. A new sense of God's blessings in my life and a gratitude for all I receive.

So how about you? Do you wag your tail uproariously when a friend stops by? How about jumping for joy for that treat you just received? Take a lesson from our four-footed friends and show those you love that you love them. You might be surprised with the greeting you might receive back!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Singing in the Rain

By: Linda Grupp Boutin

     A New Year always brings a sense of nostalgia for me. Thinking over the many paws that have crossed my path in a lifetime makes me want to sing. I've mentioned before that basenjis react particularly well to positive reinforcement. Lately on the cold and rainy winter days of Southern California, Star and Kindu race to get in their respective crates when they see me pull out the bag of bacon. It seems like the race is now to see who can get their reward first. Gary and I work hard to get their leashes off and open the doors before the dogs crash them open. Who says crate training doesn't work?
     When we return home, the two of them have opposite reactions to our arrival. Star howls her protests that she wants out of the crate. We can't open the door fast enough to make her happy. Kindu, on the opposite hand, relaxes in his crate, stretches leisurely once we open the door, and is thrilled to have gotten a good nap while we were gone. All the better for him to get into mischief once we're trying to settle down and relax after whatever activity we just participated in.
     Many times our girl will watch the boy and observe his actions to see how to react. Kindu enjoys a good song about his antics which I happily sing about frequently. All of my dogs have heard songs from me sung about their names, nicknames and thievery. One of my favorite tunes to sing to is "Wild Thing," because it so aptly describes my favorite breed of dog. Their ears prick forward and listen alertly when they recognize their names cropping up in my unusual lyrics. Things like, "Star Baby is a curly girl, furly girl, silly curl." She knows if I am singing all is well in her world.
     Several years ago, my brother's family came to visit and spent the night sleeping on the fold-out couch in our living room. I got up early to see Gary off to work the next morning, carefully keeping the living room door shut so my visitors could sleep in. However the morning was glorious with the sun streaming in my back door. The birds sang just outside nested in the bougainvillea vines. First I started whistling out the song refrain I heard from the little sparrows. Soon their echoing calls returned to me, mimicking the whistles I sang out. I'm not sure how long this continued, but before I realized it, my brother's voice called out from the living room, "What are you? A canary or Dr. Doolittle?"
     I tried to apologize for disturbing their rest, but I am sure that he remembered me singing to Ginger when we both were kids growing up together. That is just who I am, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a song playing in my head. Whenever I am alone with the dogs and feeling happy a song just erupts from my lips. It may be a praise song, or an oldie, or a contemporary hit that has captured me, but always the words are adjusted to fit the situation. I love having visitors and reflecting back on my brother's visit, it is no wonder I was whistling while preparing breakfast.
     So how about you, when was the last time you sang out to express your joy, calm your nerves, or praise the Lord's creation all about you? Try it, you might find that it lowers your blood pressure just like petting your furry companions does!