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The Basenji is a breed of dog considered by some, particularly in North America, to be a member of the sighthound family. The Basenji is a Congolese hunting dog that rarely (if ever) barks, but does make a strange yodeling sound. In behavior and temperament they have some rather un-dog-like commonalities with cats.
Basenjis are small, elegant-looking, short-haired dogs with erect ears, a tightly curled tail, and a graceful neck. Some people consider their appearance similar to that of a miniature deer. A Basenji's forehead is wrinkled, especially when the animal is young. Basenji eyes are typically almond shaped, which gives the dog the appearance of squinting seriously.
Basenjis typically weigh around 20 to 24 pounds (9 to 11 kg) and stand about 17 inches (43 cm) tall at the withers. They are athletic dogs and are deceptively powerful for their size. They have a graceful, confident gait like a trotting horse, and skim the ground in a "double-suspension gallop" when running flat-out at their top speed.
The AKC recognizes the following colorations: red/white, black/white, tricolor (red/black/white), and brindle (black stripes on a background of red)/white. There are additional variations, such as the "trindle", which is a tricolor and brindle, and several other colorations exist in the Congo.
Some Basenjis are prone to an inheritable kidney disorder called Fanconi syndrome. A Basenji with Fanconi syndrome usually begins to display symptoms after reaching the age of four. Owners can test for Fanconi syndrome by checking for sugar in the urine.
Basenjis, along with certain other breeds of dog, have been known to be carriers of a simple recessive gene which, when homozygous for the defect, causes genetic Hemolytic Anemia (basenji.org). Most Basenjis today are descended from ancestors that have tested clean. When lineage from a fully tested line (set of ancestors) cannot be completely verified, the dog should be tested before breeding. As this is a non-invasive DNA test, a Basenji can be tested for HA at any time.
As with other breeds of dog, Basenjis sometimes suffer from hip dysplasia, resulting in loss of mobility and arthritis-like symptoms.
Malabsorption, or immunoproliferative enteropathy, is an autoimmune intestinal disease that leads to anorexia, chronic diarrhea, and even death. Special diet can improve the quality of life for afflicted dogs.
The breed can also fall victim to progressive retinal atrophy (a degeneration of the retina causing blindness) and several less serious hereditary eye problems such as coloboma (a hole in the eye structure), and persistent pupillary membrane (tiny threads across the pupil).
Like wild canids, Basenjis don't bark. They will, however, give the occasional single "woof." They also chortle, whine, squeal, and make a Basenji-specific noise called a yodel or a baroo. Also like wild canids, most Basenjis come into heat (estrus) only once a year, usually in the autumn.
The Basenji is as fastidious as a cat about its personal grooming, even washing itself with its paws.
Most Basenjis, like cats, have a strong dislike for contact with water, and will go to great, and sometimes amusing, lengths to avoid getting wet. On the other hand, they are extremely inquisitive dogs, and can temporarily be completely oblivious to the pouring rain if something piques their interest.
Basenjis are highly intelligent and learn quickly, but they also have a cat-like independence and "self-motivation" which can make them somewhat casual about obedience. A healthy Basenji is a mischievous and good-humored animal, and is not above testing the limits of its environment and owner just for sport. They can be aloof with strangers but form strong bonds with their owners. If not supervised or trained properly, Basenjis can become bored and destructive when left alone. Basenjis are also expert climbers, and have been known to scale chain-link fences as much as eight feet high.
Quick and fast on their feet, Basenjis love to run and chase, so much so that they are sometimes competitively raced in lure courses. There are few creatures the Basenji is likely to encounter (including its owner!) that it does not believe it can outwit or outrun. This, combined with the breed's typically fearless approach to the world, makes it a good idea not to allow a Basenji to run free in an unconfined area or where it may get into trouble.
Basenjis can be very good with children if raised around them, but may not have much patience for them otherwise.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Basenji is one of the most ancient dog breeds. Originating on the continent of Africa, it has been venerated by humans for thousands of years. Basenjis can be seen on steles in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, sitting at the feet of their masters, looking just as they do today, with erect ears and tightly curled tail.
The Basenji had almost totally disappeared from the West when Europeans came across it in the Congo in 1895. There, the Basenji was prized by locals for its intelligence, courage, speed, and silence. They were assistants to the hunt, chasing wild game into nets for their masters. The Azande and Mangbetu people from the northeastern Congo region describe Basenjis, in the local Lingala language, as mbwá na bas??nzi. Translated, this means “dogs of the savages”, or “dogs of the villagers”. The word bas??nzi itself is the plural form of mos??nzi which is a deformation of the French insult white people used for illiterate indigenous people: mon singe (meaning “my monkey”). In Kiswahili, another Bantu language, from East Africa, mbwa shenzi translates to “wild dog”. Another local name is m’bwa m’kube m’bwa wamwitu, or “jumping up and down dog”, a reference to their tendency to jump straight up to spot their quarry.
Several attempts were made to bring the breed to England, but the earliest imports succumbed to disease. It was not until the 1930s that foundation stock was successfully established in England, and thence to the United States by animal importer Henry Trefflich. So it is that nearly all the Basenjis in the Western world are descended from these few original imports. The breed was officially accepted into the AKC in 1943. For a fascinating account of the importation of the Basenji from Africa, read The History of the Breed, a letter to the AKC in support of opening the stud book to admit new African imports. The AKC stud book was reopened to several new imports in 1990 at the request of the Basenji Club of America.
The title character of the 1954 novel Good-bye, My Lady, by James H. Street, is a Basenji.
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