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Basenji

[buh-sen-jee]

The Basenji is a breed of hunting dog that originated in central Africa. It is considered by some, particularly in North America, to be a member of the sighthound family; most kennel clubs, including the American Kennel Club and the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom classify it as a hound.

The Basenji produces an unusual yodel-like sound, due to its unusually shaped larynx. This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname "Voiceless Dog. In behavior and temperament they have some traits in common with cats .

Sometimes referred to as an Egyptian or African Dingo, Basenjis and their closely related Southeast Asian and Australian counterparts share many unique traits not found in Modern Dog species. Both species come into estrus only once annually, as compared to modern dogs which can have two or more breeding seasons every year. As well, both Dingos and Basenjis lack a distinctive odor, and both are considered relatively silent, more prone to howls, yodels, and other undulated vocalizations over the characteristic bark of modern dog species.

Characteristics

Appearance

Basenji appearance

Weight: 21-26 pounds
Height: 15-17" inches
Coat: Very Smooth, shiny
Litter size: 4 puppies
Life span: 12-15 years

Basenji 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.

Dogs typically weigh 24 pounds and stand 16 inches at the tail. They are typically a square breed, which means that they are as long as they are tall. The Basenji is an athletic dog and is deceptively powerful for its size. They have a graceful, confident gait like a trotting horse, and skim the ground in a "double-suspension gallop", with their characteristic curled tail straightened out for greater balance, when running flat-out at their top speed. The Basenji is recognized in the following standard colorations: red, black, tricolor (black with tan in the traditional pattern), and brindle (black stripes on a background of red), all with white, by the FCI, KC, AKC, and UKC. There are additional variations, such as the "trindle", which is a tricolor with brindle points, and several other colorations exist in the Congo such as liver, shaded reds(sables), "capped" tricolors (creeping tan), and piebald marked dogs.

This breed has little to no shedding (see Moult).

Temperament

The Basenji is alert, affectionate, energetic, and curious. It loves to play and makes a good pet, as long as it is handled regularly from an early age and the owners are very patient. It is very intelligent, but does not respond well to training due to being extremely independent. It is also very mischievous and can cause damage if left alone for long hours. It can be reserved with strangers. The Basenji is somewhat aloof, but can also form strong bonds with people. It should not be trusted with non-canine pets. It is usually patient, but does best with older considerate children. The Basenji dislikes wet weather. It likes to chew, so giving it lots of toys of its own would be a good idea. The breed likes to climb and can easily get over chain wire fences. Basenjis are very clever at getting their own way; they succeed less by obstinacy than by charm. The Basenji has the unique properties of not barking (it makes a low, liquid ululation instead) and cleaning itself like a cat. It can be described as speedy, frisky, tireless at play, and teasing the owner into play. Its strong desire to play can lead to behavior problems if left alone. Most Basenji problems usually involve a mismatch between owner and pet. The owners mistake the adjective "quiet' to mean inactive instead of noiseless; thus, they become harassed by an active, though relatively silent, dog.

Basenjis often stand on their hind legs, somewhat like a meerkat, by themselves or leaning on something. This behavior is observed when the dog is curious about something.

Health

There is apparently only one completed health survey of Basenjis, a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey. Many basenjis also suffer from PRA, which causes blindness and Fanconi's syndrome which can cause kidney failure.

Mortality

Basenjis in the 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median longevity of 13.6 years (sample size of 46 deceased dogs), which is 1-2 years longer than the median longevity of other breeds of similar size. The oldest dog in the survey was 17.5 years. Most common causes of death were old age (30%), urologic (incontinence, Fanconi syndrome, chronic kidney failure 13%), behavior ("unspecified" and aggression 9%), and cancer. (9%).

Morbidity

Among 78 live dogs in the 2004 UKC survey, the most common health issues noted by owners were dermatologic and urologic (urologic issues in Basenjis can be signs of Fanconi syndrome).

Fanconi Syndrome

Fanconi syndrome, an inheritable disorder in which the kidneys fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients, is unusually common in Basenjis. Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination, and glucose in the urine, which may lead to a misdiagnosis of diabetes. Fanconi syndrome usually presents between 4 and 8 years of age, but sometimes as early as 3 years or as late as 10 years. Fanconi syndrome is treatable and organ damage is reduced if treatment begins early. Basenji owners are advised to test their dog's urine for glucose once a month beginning at the age of 3 years. Glucose testing strips designed for human diabetics are inexpensive and available at most pharmacies.
Fanconi DNA Linkage Test

In July 2007, Dr. Gary Johnson of the University of Missouri released the linked marker DNA test for Fanconi Syndrome in Basenjis. It is the first predictive test available for Fanconi Syndrome. With this test, it is possible to more accurately determine the probability of a dog carrying the gene for Fanconi Syndrome.

Dogs tested using this "Linkage Test" will return one of the following statuses:

*Probably Clear/Normal
Indicates the individual has most likely inherited normal DNA from both parents. It is unlikely that basenjis which test this way will produce affected puppies no matter which dog they are bred to.
*Probably Carrier
Indicates the individual has most likely inherited normal DNA from one parent and DNA with the Fanconi syndrome mutation from the other parent. Although this Basenji is unlikely to develop Fanconi syndrome, it could produce puppies that will develop Fanconi syndrome. To minimize the chances of this happening it is recommended carriers be bred only to those that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome.
*Probably Equivocal/Indeterminant
Indicates the individual's DNA contained features found in both “normal” and “carrier” Basenjis. At present it cannot be predicted whether these Basenjis are carriers or normal; however, it is unlikely that they will develop Fanconi syndrome. The safest strategy would be to treat them as “carriers” and only bred to those basenjis that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome.
*Probably Affected
Indicates the individual is likely to develop clinical Fanconi syndrome and is likely to produce puppies with Fanconi Syndrome if bred to Basenjis other than those that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome.

This linkage test is being provided as a tool to assist breeders whilst research continues towards the development of the direct fanconi test.

For more information about the linkage test visit: Basenji Health Endowment Fanconi Test FAQ

Other Basenji health issues

Basenjis sometimes carry a simple recessive gene which, when homozygous for the defect, causes genetic Hemolytic Anemia. 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.

Basenjis sometimes suffer from hip dysplasia, resulting in loss of mobility and arthritis-like symptoms. All dogs should be tested by either OFA or PennHIP prior to breeding.

Malabsorption, or immunoproliferative enteropathy, is an autoimmune intestinal disease that leads to anorexia, chronic diarrhea, and even death. A 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).

History

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 pricked ears and tightly curled tails. They were originally bred for hunting small game by coursing.

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 basɛ́nzi. Translated, this means “dogs of the savages”, or “dogs of the villagers”. In the Congo, the Basenji is also known as "Dog of the Bush." The dogs are also known to the Azande of southern Sudan as Ango Angari. The word basɛ́nzi itself is the plural form of mosɛ́nzi. 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. In 1923, for example, Lady Helen Nutting brought six Basenjis with her from Sudan, but all six died from distemper shots they received in quarantine. It was not until the 1930s that foundation stock was successfully established in England, and then 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. In 1990, the AKC stud book was reopened to several new imports at the request of the Basenji Club of America. Basenjis are also registered with the UKC.

Basenjis in popular culture

The title character of the 1954 novel Good-bye, My Lady, by James H. Street, is a Basenji. It's the story of a young boy in Mississippi who takes in a most unusual stray. The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1956, with a cast that included Brandon De Wilde, Walter Brennan, and Sidney Poitier.

Veronica Anne Starbuck's 2000 novel Heart of the Savannah features a Basenji named Savannah. Savannah narrates this story about her adventures as an African-bred dog brought to America. Starbuck also wrote a sequel titled August Magic.

Simon Cleveland wrote a novel titled The Basenji Revelation published by Lulu Press in 2004 in which a government agent suffers amnesia and undergoes a change in personality after inheriting a Basenji from his late mother. The book delivers insightful facts about the ancient origins of the breed.

The true story of a Basenji was featured in the episode The Cat Came Back on the radio program This American Life. The segment tells the story of a family who chose a Basenji because they do not shed or slobber, but became frustrated with his aloofness and destructiveness. They eventually bring him to live on a farm 30 miles away, but within a few days the tenacious dog found its way all the way back home.

In Spike Milligan's War Diaries "Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall" (Sept 24, 1943) the following exchange takes place:

...we are bloody lost. Lt. Budden is looking studiously at his map, the wrong way up.
"It's upside down, Sir."
"I know that, I turned it upside down for a reason."
"Sorry, Sir, only trying to help."
"If you want to help, Milligan, act like a Basenji."

According to the popular webcomic Achewood, if Jesus Christ were a dog, he'd be a Basenji.

A man and his Basenji were featured on an episode of LA Ink The Basenji has a very unusual marking of a diamond in the middle of his back. The owner has a replica tattooed on his own back during the episode. The Basenji is featured prominently, with several photos and video shots.

References

See also

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