From the time we bought our first house, and for the vast majority of our marriage, we have had a basenji. For those of you unfamiliar with the breed, they are one of the “primitive breeds” that have been with us for 4000 years. Given as gifts to the pharaohs by traveling dignitaries, they are wonderful, complicated, mischievous, difficult little dogs. They are the only breed I know of that has breeders who actively discourage people who have never had one from getting one. They rank second from the bottom in trainability, not because they are stupid, far from it. They are smart and independent, and pleasing you may not be on their agenda every day or even most days.
We just lost our second one a few weeks ago, and I thought I didn’t want another one. I thought, I’d gotten past the desire to deal with the constant push/pull of life with a basenji. I love my miniature pinscher who is every bit as funny and delightful as our basenjis have always been, but she’s too small to open the refrigerator, or the trashcan, or the back door, so she’s easier to deal with. My border terrier has all the energy and drive of a basenji, but she’s obedient to a fault, desperate to please and wouldn’t think of doing anything she’d ever been told not to do. She may, in fact, be the only good dog we’ve ever owned, but since her breeders, Betsy and Cindy, raised her for the first 14 months of her life, we can hardly take credit for that.
And so I thought we were out of the basenji game, but my husband thought differently. He wanted another basenji. After being a good sport and looking at other dogs, he still wanted another basenji, so I started making calls. Basenjis only have one heat cycle a year, and they aren’t exactly thick on the ground. We were lucky, or perhaps fated, to find Judy, an excellent and respected breeder, who had Storm, the only unclaimed puppy of an unplanned litter, the result of a silent heat. Luckily, the two love birds in question were planned to have a litter the following year, so it was a good match. For us, it was a perfect match, because it resulted in Storm who was five months old. Judy was willing to have us come out and meet him.
We brought Hetty, who has picked a lot of good dogs. Hetty is a kind of genius that way. If she likes a dog and the dog likes her, it’s a good dog. So we went out into the middle of a sheep pasture to a lure coursing event to meet Storm. We fretted. We’d never gotten a basenji puppy that old before. What if he was aloof, or uninterested in us? What if Hetty gave him the thumbs down? We’d have to put our names on a list for next year. I was still ambivalent about getting another basenji, but my husband had just lost his dog, I could hardly deny him. He certainly has never denied me bringing any number of animals into the house over the years, so fair is fair.
To make a long story slightly shorter, Hetty liked him. We liked him. He liked us. Judy liked us. We liked Judy. I asked her if he was okay with being picked up and she said he liked it. I picked him up and burst into tears, because he leaned into me and snuggled just right, and at that moment I realized I’d been wanting another one too. We’ve always had one. I guess we always will.