Married With Dogs

Never choose a pet unadvisedly or lightly

 

By Sue Owens Wright
Pets & Their People

This month marks my husband’s and my 38th wedding anniversary, and we’ve spent all but one of those years in the company of dogs. We were newlyweds when we first embarked on pup parenthood. Having a dog is often a prelude to childrearing for young couples, but with pets you get to choose your new family member. You don’t always choose wisely, though. Many people select a breed that is unsuitable for them because they fail to consider whether the dog is a good match for their personality and lifestyle. We were no exception.

With little thought to what it takes to raise a puppy and without much research, we purchased a Basenji from a breeder. Like all puppies, she was adorable, the red-and-white variety of the breed with a corkscrew for a tail. Like all people who make spur-of-the-moment decisions about dogs, we succumbed too quickly and paid the price. Unfortunately, in most cases, the dog does, too.

I was 7 years old when I first saw a Basenji in the movie based on the novel by James H. Street, “Goodbye, My Lady,” starring Walter Brennan and Brandon De Wilde. I was enamored with this remarkable “barkless dog” of ancient Egypt and also with De Wilde, the golden haired, 13-year-old actor of “Shane” fame who played Claude (Skeeter), an orphaned boy who rescues a stray dog after hearing an eerie wail coming from across the Pascagoula swamps of Mississippi, where he lives with his Uncle Jesse. I wanted a dog like Skeeter’s that cried tears and groomed itself like a cat.

Turns out I was the one who would be crying tears of frustration over this dog. The numbers of people who rush out to buy a particular breed of dog glorified in a movie are legion. So are the dogs that end up surrendered within a year of purchase.

We watched our beautiful puppy course gracefully through the tall grasses along the American River near where we lived. It was poetry in motion. But our little huntress possessed a devious intelligence and stubbornness I had never before encountered in a canine. In fact, I’m not sure that she wasn’t possessed. The Basenji is a sight hound rather than a scent hound, but its drive and determination to stay on task are pretty evenly matched. I’d grown up with dogs that obeyed commands without hesitation.

At the time, we were not well suited to keeping this or any other breed of dog because we were living in an apartment and were both working full time, hardly ideal circumstances for dog ownership. How do you train a puppy when you’re never around? I covered the linoleum entryway of our tiny apartment with newspaper, but she doggedly refused to use the papers. I’m no fan of paper training, but our second-story apartment made it necessary. I’d wait patiently, but the instant I removed the pup from her enclosure, she made a beeline for the carpet and squatted. This became terribly frustrating, not to mention smelly.

Anyone who says dogs don’t do things for spite never had a Basenji. We were clearly outmatched by this headstrong, keenly intelligent dog. If she formed any attachment to us at all, she never showed it. She was more feline than canine, just like the dog in the movie of my childhood. Perhaps we should have tried a litter box instead.

We believed that the barkless Basenji would be perfect for apartment dwellers like us. True, the Basenji doesn’t bark. It shrieks like a banshee. Fanciers refer to the Basenji’s vocalizations as a yodel, which conjures delightful images of Julie Andrews spinning on a mountaintop and harmonious echoes of Tyrolean yodelers across snow-capped Alps. Unless you set the yodeler’s lederhosen on fire, he’ll never out-holler a Basenji. Even Maria never hit a note that high on the scale, and no one knew what to do with a problem like her, either. I worried that our neighbors might summon the police to investigate a murder in progress. Amazingly, no one ever complained to the manager about the blood-curdling screeches coming from our apartment.

My grandmother used to say, “Marry in haste; repent at leisure.” Matrimony should never be entered into lightly or unadvisedly, and neither should choosing a pet. That’s why it’s so important before committing to what should be a lifelong union to ensure you’re a perfect match with that pet. Like too many people, we learned this lesson the hard way when we picked the wrong dog.

We had barely settled on a name for her when it was “Good-bye, My Lady” for real. I was as brokenhearted as Skeeter was to return her to the breeder, but like him I had to do what was best for my pretty little lady. I knew she just didn’t belong with us. Fortunately, she was placed with someone who could better appreciate the unique qualities of a Basenji. Ideally, a shelter or reputable breeder serves as a matchmaker to ensure a dog goes to the perfect home in the first place.

A year later, wiser and having purchased our first home with an ample backyard, we were far better prepared to get another dog. We lived happily ever after with a basset hound who wasn’t barkless but had a mellower disposition and a melodious voice far pleasanter to the ears.


Sue Owens Wright is the award-winning author of books and stories about dogs. One of her stories is included in the new book Lost Souls: Found! Inspiring Stories About Basset Hounds (happytailsbooks.com). Proceeds benefit basset hound rescue. For more information, go to sueowenswright.com.

Basenji Rescue and Transport thanks Cecily Hastings, publisher of Inside Publications and Sue Owens Wright for granting us permission to publish this article.
June, 2011