This is BRAT’s 20th year in operation. Twenty years ago Bill Clinton was President; Shakespeare in Love received the Academy Award for best Movie; The Sopranos, Friends, and X Files were some of the hit TV shows; gas cost $1.30 per gallon; and Basenji Rescue & Transport, Inc. (BRAT) began its journey rescuing Basenjis. A lot has changed since then, but thanks to dedicated volunteers, BRAT is still rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming Basenjis.
BRAT’s Mission: “To rescue, rehabilitate and re-home dogs of the Basenji breed; to educate and support owners, potential adopters, and admirers of the breed; to rescue and foster Basenjis in safe and nurturing environments; to provide the care that each dog needs; and to work hard to educate ourselves so that we can confidently place adoptable dogs in the best homes possible for a happy and harmonious outcome.”
The sixteenth BRAT Convention was held in Portland, Oregon, June 13 – 15, 2019. There were Basenjis in meeting rooms and with their people everywhere at the convention because they are why we work, plan, hope, and celebrate. They are the center of BRAT, the reason volunteers devote a great deal of time, energy, and other resources, quietly and daily paving the way for happy endings.
Finding great forever homes for Basenjis in need of a second chance is what BRAT does. That’s why we spend so much time sitting in front of our computers, transporting, fostering, and handling all the particulars that make BRAT work. That’s what inspires people from across the US and Canada to join BRAT. It’s the reason 64 people along with 37 dogs came together from diverse backgrounds and locations to spend the weekend discussing challenges and celebrating rescue successes, reconnecting with veteran BRAT members, and meeting some volunteers new to the calling of rescuing Basenjis.
Deserving of special thanks, applause, and baroos are Deb Hughes, who hosted the convention, along with Debbi Johnson and Liz Newton. Thanks also go to Patricia Dukes for the program layout and to Mark Ziegler for the convention logo. Official convention historian Michael Robinson provided valuable assistance in myriad ways. Additional cheers and appreciation to the spouses and other family members who were conscripted to assist in the countless to-do lists involved in planning such a successful event.
The convention planners contributed countless hours to prepare the details that made the convention such a success. As just one example of the thoughtful preparation, attendees received canvas tote bags filled with swag of the fun and useful sort, including BRAT bandanas, BRAT M&Ms, convention logo medallions to add to key chains, and BRAT themed crossword puzzles, programs, and schedules.
The clever Basenji cookie centerpieces were courtesy of Deb Hughes and Mike Robinson, who also offered more homemade dog treats, which Basenji attendees were happy to sample. A cookbook with recipes for all sorts of great Basenji treats was provided so Basenjis’ humans could make more treats for them when they returned home.
The convention got underway on Friday with member introductions followed by presentations. The convention itinerary included a variety of presentations that were both educational and entertaining, not always an easy combination to achieve.
Dr. Marty DeWees, DVM gave an excellent presentation on Basenji dental problems, how to properly care for your dog’s teeth, what treats to avoid, and what vets can do to provide the best dental care. I took lots of scribbled notes, but I’m delighted Dr. DeWees agreed to share her presentation so concerned Basenji parents have a guide for talking to their veterinarians about dental care. The presentation, “Dental Care for BRAT Rescues: Helping Our Basenji Rescues Become Pain and Infection Free," has been uploaded to the BRAT Facebook page.
Professional Animal Communicator Bridget Pilloud gave the thought-provoking presentation “Pets are Talking: Use Your Intuition to Understand Your Dog.”
Foster heroes Terrie and Dean Sigler talked about “Fostering: the Good the Bad and the Ugly.” They shared insights from their wealth of experience as foster parents and Basenji lovers.
And, it just wouldn’t be a BRAT convention without contests for the Basenji attendees. There were contests for best costumes, most freckles, best baroo, most white, curliest tail, etc. The Basenji contestants were remarkably tolerant of all this, and some even seemed to like the attention and applause.
There was time in the schedule for Basenji attendees to visit a dog park to run and play after attending presentations with their humans.
This was followed by sniffing contests which involved hiding treats under a few of several cups arranged in the conference hall. The Basenjis had to lead their people to the right cup and find the treat under the cup. Basenji problem solving is a wonderful thing to behold.
Saturday began with more introductions, and then Liz Newton gave a presentation entitled “BRAT: A Look Back at 20 Years of Rescuing Basenjis in Need.” She talked about BUR, The Basenji Underground Railroad, and how this became BRAT. Mike Swan, the first president of BRAT, was joined in efforts to establish BRAT by Don and Jackie Kuhwarth, who still maintain the BRAT databases and web page, and several other founding BRAT members, many of whom are still active in BRAT today. Liz showed several examples of the BRAT web page over the years, and talked about the amazing rescue efforts of some of the devoted volunteers who make up BRAT.
The conference attendees are part of a group of the 1,271 volunteers who support BRAT in various ways. The fabric of BRAT is made of these volunteers, whose efforts are woven together to achieve what might seem impossible: 90 dogs rescued so far this year and 4,000 Basenjis rescued over the last two decades.
In his presentation “Back to the Basenji Origins: Two Trips to Africa,” James Johannes shared slides and an account of his trips to Africa to bring back more native Basenjis. He brought one of his imported Basenjis with him to the convention.
After lunch, Liz Newton explained “Walking a dog through BRAT,” detailing the steps in the adoption process and a dog’s journey to a forever home.
The beautiful and heartbreaking BRAT Memorial Slideshow of our Basenjis waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge was shown Saturday afternoon.
This convention also included a game for humans: BRAT Jeopardy, the perfect game for BRAT volunteers who are smart and have quick reflexes, necessities for living with our nearly prescient Basenji family members.
Saturday night’s schedule was packed. First there was a tasty buffet. Then several devoted and hardworking volunteers were given awards for extraordinary service to BRAT. The evening concluded with the raffle and auction. A lot of wonderful items were donated for raffles and an auction to raise money for BRAT. BRAT is full of generous people who donated many wonderful Basenji and dog related treasures for the fund raising events. Bill Newton ably handled auctioneering duties as he and several volunteers kept the proceedings moving along and enjoyable for everyone.
The weekend flew swiftly by, and soon it was time to exchange goodbyes and make plans to attend next year’s convention, wherever it might be. (Details forthcoming.)
When I think of BRAT, I think of the many Basenjis who have been rescued and adopted by grateful families over the last 20 years. I think of the Basenji lives saved and transformed, and the grateful humans whose lives were so enriched by their adopted Basenjis. I think with profound and humble gratitude of the five Basenjis we’ve adopted from BRAT over the years.
Intertwined with all of that, I think of the many BRAT volunteers –and everyone at BRAT is a volunteer—who form a safety net, from one set of hands to another. I think of the miles driven, the hours spent evaluating and coordinating dogs, the home visits, and the care given. I think of the amazing foster parents who take in frightened, confused, bewildered dogs and help to restore hope and love in their lives. I think of the jobs, families, and lives juggled to work for these small magical dogs. The image of hope and joy that comes to mind when I think of BRAT is one of volunteers from all backgrounds with their hands full and their hearts open, giving of themselves to achieve the happy miracles of forever homes for Basenjis.
BRAT received generous support from Donna Troyna’s TotalBasenji, Earth Rated Poop Bags, Harness Lead One World One Leash, Little Dog Brewing Co., Max & Neo Quality Dog Gear, Mark Murphy K9tag, Inc., Rai-Tei Basenji Dresses, Tearraribles, Xtreme Pet Products, and White Orchid Body & Bath
The photos in this article are courtesy of various BRAT volunteers.