When we learned that my husband’s work schedule was about to change and I would consequently be alone in the house at night for the first time in my life, we started thinking about getting a dog for companionship and protection.
My criteria were strict: The dog had to be an obedient sort, non-shedding, clean, odorless, and, most importantly, quiet. A memory resurfaced of a handsome little dog my great-uncle had when I was very young; Pooch was a Basenji, and, unlike the Chihuahuas, German Shepherds, and mixed breeds my parents owned over the years, he did not bark. Yes, I decided, a Basenji was the breed we should look for. And that’s how Ruby came to live with us.
The obedience requirement quickly went by the wayside – Ruby’s reliability, it turned out, was dependent upon the quality of the bribe.
Non-shedding? Ha! In spite of the breed’s reputation, Basenjis do shed, and some of them shed a lot! (It depends on individual genetics, the climate, and the amount of time spent outdoors.) Over the next thirteen-and-a-half years, Ruby probably shed a dozen or more dogs’ worth of fur. I got used to it. (I even saved some.)
Although not exactly odorless, Ruby’s fragrance was like warm corn chips. Luckily, I happened to like corn chips!
But she did live up to the promise of being clean. She’d come indoors with mud up to her little elbows and butt swirls (and beyond!); yet within the hour, her white would be as white as driven snow.
She was a fastidious groomer. At first I bathed her whenever she got dirty, but eventually I abandoned that practice and just gave her a yearly soap-and-rinse. Basenjis are truly wash 'n' wear dogs. (Think about it: how often do you bathe your cat?)
Ironically, Ruby failed utterly in protection department. My dad used to tease me because when he came to visit, he’d enter after knocking at the door, and then hide around the corner…while Ruby came forward ever so cautiously, ready to turn her droopy tail and run if a stranger was lurking there! She had a yellow stripe down her back a mile wide, and it wasn’t the Basenji ridgie.
On our daily walks through many years, I discovered that I had to coax her past all sorts of unexpected, frightening things...
…like the neighbors’ Halloween displays!
…hubcaps lost along the roadside!
…and items neighbors wanted to give away!
It turned out that Ruby was a lover, not a fighter. In an odd twist of intentions, her job on the nights we spent alone was to get her beauty sleep. Mine was just to love her. And I did.