Friday, July 11, 2014

The Way of Basenji

I suppose my BRAT rescue story is like many others: a wonderful and special Basenji named Clover Four Leaf came into my life through the tireless efforts of many BRAT rescuers and fosters, and all the sad and lonely places of my life and home were taken over by an exuberant little character, whose tail never seemed to stop wagging. I was forever hopelessly hooked.

I did, of course, expect some things to change. After being Basenji-less for a year and a half, I knew I'd have to get back into the old habits: rising earlier; daily walks and exercise; budgeting for food, toys, and the usual canine accoutrement; sharing the bed - or, more precisely - clinging to one corner of the bed, with one leg dangling. Yes, all these familiar things came back to me again; but I didn't mind. Clover Four Leaf gave back so much more than she took.

What I didn't expect from Clover was a crash course in Life 101. I mean, how could a dog teach a human anything about how to be a better person? And my first case study? Being fully present in the moment and appreciating the little things. When you think of it, who better than a dog to teach this most valuable lesson; for if there were ever a creature with the capacity of understanding "here and now", it's a Basenji. And so began Lesson One....

Clover and I kept coming across the same fallen tree branch on our daily walks. Nothing special about this small branch - as far as I could tell. Yet Clover stopped and studied it each time we passed it. I couldn't see any creatures on it or underneath it, but she behaved as if there were an entire micro-cosm on its surface. Those times - when her brow wrinkled in curiosity, her head cocked to the side as if she were hypothesizing, her whole body tensed with perplexity - those times I recognized her just being present and living in the moment. Seeing the world through her canine intelligence made me take a look at it myself. I must have passed a thousand things that had no meaning to me whatsoever; but Clover noticed everything. And it was like the first time she'd seen it. Always new, always interesting. She never rushed past any encounter: she slowly absorbed it, sniffed it, walked around it - as if she were memorizing every detail. I anticipated, and got, a "now, it's your turn" stare! She challenged me to actually look where I was going.

On other occasions, I observed this preternatural calm. Even during play or times of excitement, she would exhibit perfect understanding of where she was and what she was doing. She'd try to go after a squirrel, or challenge another dog, or growl from the car window at a passing motorcyclist. But once the squirrel, or dog, or biker passed by, it was over. Done. Completely forgotten! Frankly, it was freakish how she could switch gears and get back to the present. I would think, "here I frustrated because I'm not somewhere else...but here's the Basenji, completely at peace with just being where she is right now".

Maybe I will never be able to explain what all this means to me. Maybe I'm just overly attached to my dog, an anthropomorphizing fool.  But I can't help but believe that dogs really can teach us a few things. Every day with Clover Four Leaf is kind of like sitting with a four-legged guru who eats from your hand and wants to lean against you all the time. I didn't even have to climb a mountain to get here.

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