Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Saga of the Solano County Basenjis, Part One

When I lost my beloved basenji Bow in March, I knew I needed to have some time and a break from basenjiland even though I ached to have a basenji next to me again the moment she departed. Barely a month later, on May 2 I got a message from Ray Eckart, BRAT regional coordinator in Chico that there was a basenji whose owner had to move the next day into an apartment that did not allow pets. Then we learned it wasn’t one basenji but two. The owner didn’t want to go through the hassle of filling out a second online intake form. The information we did have was sketchy besides the fact that they were a six-year-old male, Shacka, and three-year-old female, Crybaby (yes, urgh on that name). And we knew that they had not been spayed or neutered. We needed to act fast or we weren’t sure what might happen to these two, and we weren’t even positive they were basenjis.

Arrangements were made for the owner to drop these two at my house the following day at 10 a.m. At 10:30 a.m. the owner called to say they were missing and might have gotten out the night before, or even earlier. Ray spread the word widely to have volunteers, other rescue groups and individuals to be on the look out for them. Having psyched myself up to bring them in, I now had to try to detach from worrying too much about these two dogs I’d never met. But it was impossible not to think about them running lose in Solano County, a highly developed area in the middle of the San Francisco-Sacramento Corridor where I-80 weaves through and is one of the busiest interstates in the nation. The likelihood of them surviving seemed very slim. I went to bed heart sick that my chance to help these two had probably vanished.

All day Wednesday I tried to blot out what might have happened to these two mystery basenjis, and then a message popped up that afternoon. “Shacka and Crybaby have been found!!!!” Multiple postings and messages had led to them being discovered on Petharbor at the Solano County Animal Control in Fairfield after being discovered running lose on a major street. The grainy online photos showed that they were indeed basenjis, Crybaby looking underweight and with a very sad, miscolored coat.

I called animal control, and miraculously the two had been microchipped, but the information on file was all out of date. That meant the owner had a week to claim before BRAT could gain custody of them. We gave animal control his contact, he chose to turn them over to animal control who in turn signed them over to BRAT

The next day I nervously made the drive to Fairfield uncertain of what I might find. Would they be aggressive, fearful, rabid? There was an excruciating five minute wait after I signed the paperwork and then they emerged charging out on leash with an animal control staffer. They looked like no basenjis I had ever seen. Their coats were matted and very light. Crybaby was especially underweight.

Shacka came right up to me and gave me a friendly sniff. Crybaby cowered but didn’t not show any aggression as the slip leashes were removed and they were put onto my leashes. After a walk around the grounds to prepare for our long ride back to San Francisco, they jumped quickly in the car and rode well all the way back, Shacka sitting regally in the back seat and Crybaby hunkered below him on the floor

I followed all of the instructions I’ve read of fostering of keeping a good distance and giving them plenty of treats and happy talk along the way. As we crossed the East Bay Bridge’s S-curve and then emerged from the tunnel of Yerba Buena Island, I felt my right shoulder twitching, sure that it was from all the stress of the past few days. I reached it to scratch and realized it was Shacka’s paw. He wasn’t pushing to get in the front seat. He had simply gently put his paw on my shoulder and looked into my eyes with what felt like was an attitude of “I think I can trust you.” Even if he couldn’t understand the words I told him, “The best part of your life has just begun.”

With virtually no medical history besides the round of shots they got at animal control, no background on their socialization or temperament, my fostering of these two began. I will go into more detail in a later post, but I will just say that so far these two have proven to be the miracle basenjis. I admire them for just surviving on the streets of Fairfield for at least a day or two. Shacka immediately acted as if I was his best friend. Crybaby (whom I am just calling Baby for now) was very frightened that first afternoon, but snuggled up next to by the end of the day – clearly desperate to be protected and loved but afraid of almost every sound she heard. She let me brush her coat that was as stiff as a porcupine and felt like silk by the time I was finished. By the second day she was almost begging to brushed. They both love to be brushed.

There has been some marking and chewing in the house but nothing so severe that I have really been ready to throw in the towel. The fact that these two have been so willing to trust a human after what seems like a really horrible start in life gives me reason to want to make every effort to help them begin the next chapter of their lives where they will be showered with love, nurtured to great health and thrive as the best basenjis they can be.

Having such support from the whole BRAT community has made this initially chaotic foster assignment much less daunting.

More than once I have thought I was insane for doing this, that it's more than I can handle, that it's too soon after losing Bow. But another side of me thinks Bow had a hand (or a paw) in this, seeing that my life had become too dull and she decided to send them my way. It really is a miracle that they survived that day or two running virtually feral on the streets of Fairfield. Maybe it was Bow, their guardian angel, watching over them and sending them into a new life where they will now be safe.

(And here is a link to a video of them settling into fun in the back garden.)


  1. What lucky B's! Best of luck with them!

    Vicky Locke

  2. I am sure Baby will gain some confidence and blossom with your good care. And they will both have beautiful coats soon enough with you looking after their diets. Best of luck to all 3 of you.

  3. what a lovely story. i'm glad you have these two to look after - bow would be proud...