Thursday, December 23, 2010

African Wolf Hounds

The African Wolf Hounds
(originally published, sans Epilogue, in the Rip Van Wrinkler newsletter)

The Basenjis dashed through the forest, exploring every smell, every tree and rock and clump of grass.  They kept us in sight, mostly, or at least knew where they'd left us, as they raced across the meadow and into the trees.

The wind sang through the Ponderosa on the ridges overhead.  I stretched out on a rock by the brook and dozed in the warm sunlight.

We had walked to the end of Griffeth Spring and back again, that narrow ribbon of an ecosystem, sometimes 50 feet wide, but a mile long.  The green along the laughing brooklet  was so intense I half expected to see Snow White come floating by, gracefully plucking wild flowers for a bouquet.   

There were only two Basenjis today, the girls, Taffy and Chaminade.
The girls had never been out together like this, without the boys, Pi and Q.  They were enjoying not being bossed around. The girls had discovered that they could leap back and forth across the brook, cross a log, or even wade in the water.  This was great for their self-confidence.

The rock was warm and flat.  The brooklet  bubbled and slipped over the stones.  The wind sang and the Basenjis danced and leapt through the forest.  I dreamed.

Suddenly a Basenji screamed, and again.  I lept to my feet and turned around.

A large Malamute/German Shepherd- type dog was bearing down on Taffanel, who was running towards me, Chaminade just ahead, to the side.  A split second, I knew it wasn't a dog, but a huge coyote, and I started screaming, waving my arms and running towards him.

He was twice as tall as Taffy, long skinny legs, and a large neck ruff of grey hair with black tips.  His eyes were yellow beams as he focused with intense delight on their fleeing forms.  They were thirty feet from me, he was ten feet behind them. 

He hit the brakes when he saw me running at him, shouting insanely; he turned and ran, more in surprise than fear.  But to my horror, Taffy and Chaminade, excited that he was on the run (or so they thought) also turned and began chasing him back across the meadow and into the trees, with me following, screaming their names, begging them to come back NOW.  Chaminade, less confident, gave up the chase when they got to the trees.  But Miss Taffanel, not yet two years old, had not yet to face something she could not handle. The supremely confident little imp chased the huge beast up and over the hill, out of sight.

Then we were both screaming, she and I.  I heard three yelps, and could only imagine what she had faced as she flew over the brow of the hill.  Was he waiting there, fangs at the ready?  What kind of instant and incredibly agile flip had she done to avoid his pearly whites?  I was still running across the meadow after them when Taffy burst from the forest and raced towards me, as if for her life.  Her pursuer slowed up when he saw me, a crazy woman, waving my arms, making lots of noise, and running towards them.  He hesitated a brief second, just a flicker, then turned and loped back into the trees, over the hill, and disappeared.  

This time the girls were more than willing to let me slip their collars on, and we all walked rather quickly out of the forest.

I was still calling this our Coyote Encounter, when I recounted the tale to my friend, Robert, that evening.  He questioned me carefully about our attacker’s description, then took in his breath.  “That was a wolf you saw,” he concluded.  I couldn’t believe him.  There were no wolves in the forest around Flagstaff, Arizona.  The next day, I tried calling the Forest Service, but no one seemed particularly interested.  I don’t think they believed me.  Then I found the website of the Mexican Grey Wolf Restoration Project.  They have been re-introducing wolves along the Arizona-New Mexican border, but that was 300 miles away. 

Then I saw the photos.  Here was our fellow, peering around a tree, and another, from inside a pen of captivity.  I called the restoration project, and suddenly I was being quizzed, and had the sense that someone was writing down what I said.  I learned that a wolf had been hit on the highway the previous year, so they knew that the wolves, or a lone wolf, was occasionally straying so far from the preserves.  The young man took down a report.  Another incident, and they would try to trap our attacker and remove him to the preserve. 

I went back to reading the website, which carried detailed statistics.  Our wolf, I learned, had been born in the wild.  All released wolves wear tracking collars, and he had none.   He was most likely a young male, far on a hunting trip, looking for new territory.  I could even narrow down which litter he might have been from. 

I also saw the reports of the attacks…livestock killed or wounded…and dogs.  Six dogs had been killed by wolves in the last reporting year.  The more I read, the colder I got, the more I shook.  One of my friends congratulated me for having the right response to the wolf, to chase at him, waving my hands.  But would I have done that if I’d known he was a wolf?   

We still go for walks in the forest, but we haven’t been back to Griffith Spring.   I now take more dogs, two small Basenjis are not enough.  Chaminade has a new habit.  She stops every so often and peers deep into the forest, and I know she is looking for the wolf.


We no longer live in Arizona, so no more walks in the forest, but…recently we were out for a run in our local dog park.  This is a very special dog park, essential a piece of forest surrounded by a chain link fence.  As we were rounding a corner, we came face to face with two huge furry “dogs.”  I felt a shock of recognition, and then saw Taffy.  She seemed to leap straight up in the air, all four legs, and her hair on her back was standing up as straight as I’ve ever seen, all the while staring at the closer “dog,” who was staring at her. 

“That’s a wolf!” I exclaimed.  “And that’s another one!” I continued, as I looked at the other one. 

“No, no, these are Malamutes,” the man walking the “dogs” assured me.  They were on both on leash. 

I looked at Taffy.  She knew.  I knew.  These were domesticated wolves, living in New Jersey.  I called the dogs off, and we went another direction.  When we came around again, the wolves were gone.  Taffy will never forget her close call, but if that wolf were to run, I can’t say that she wouldn’t chase it all over again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Story of Mu'Addib

SunDiata's Mu'Addib   Nov 25, 1999 - Nov 17, 2010

by David Jones
November 21, 2010

Hi everyone,
Thank you for the kind words and thoughts. I’m doing fine. Nothing an 18yr old single malt scotch can’t handle. Mu’addib’s passing was a good enough reason to crack that dusty bottle open. I wrote this more for myself but I thought it might make a good read. Enjoy...

The world of Basenjis
In 1999 after I stopped working and bought my little house I got it into my head to get a dog. But which type? As a child I once saw a Basenji, the barkless dog of Africa. It had made a lasting impression on me so I decided to look for one. Basenjis are relatively rare and are known as the royal breed of dogs. Well, time went by and one day I answered an ad in the newspaper ( one of few I’ve ever seen since). I spoke to a nice lady who seemed very curious as to who I was, where I lived, what kind of household and the such. It seemed a bit like a job interview but I didn’t mind. As a result she invited me to her home in flagstaff, AZ. So I traveled from S. Arizona to N. Arizona to meet her, her husband and her pack of basenjis. It was from there that I entered into the eccentric world of the Basenji.

Basenji breeders and owners are a fanatical bunch. Breeders are extreme about who gets a basenji and owners are overbearing and covet their ownership. Yes, me included. Well Chris and her husband Jim were great people and we hit it off wonderfully. Chris had been breeding for about 20 years or so. She had her own distinct lineage and was looking for people to sell her current litter of pups to. I had come thinking that I would get the runt of the litter as I was not looking for a show dog. I had explained that I would raise him for hunting and trekking the wilderness with me. Well, this must have intrigued Chris as she offered me the pick of the alpha male whom she felt needed a strong personality to raise him. Thus, I met Sundiata’s Mu’addib, the striking guy you saw in the picture. I called him “Mu”. He was 8 weeks old.

Mu’addib is special among the basenji world as he is called a half African. His father was an African import brought into the United States to strengthen the genetics of the American basenji. I considered it an honor to have him and still do to this day.

The elk, the wolves and food coma
Our first adventure together was to an elk camp full of men helping a friend hunt for a bull elk. Typical camp of hunters. Everyone was happy to be in the high country and excited for the opportunity to find an elk. Mu’addib was a hit among everyone. He was only about 9 months old but you could already see his self-assured and pushy personality. He had no fear in him. Each morning we would set out in our vehicles and scatter across the countryside to look for elk. After a few days I finally got that call on the radio that my friend had killed his elk. We all converged on the kill site to help with the carcass and soon everyone was busy lending a hand with the butchering. At first Mu’addib stood off with his hair standing up watching this scene in front of him but soon his curious nature got to him and he came over to the carcass. He sniffed, then began to tear meat off of a hind leg. We all stood there in fascination over his actions. He would tear off a piece of meat, gnaw on it a few times, then swallow the chunk whole. He did this until he was bloated. He was in paradise.

Soon we were back in camp and a few of the guys began caping the skull. Shortly, they were laughing and called me over. Mu’addib had decided that the skull was his and while standing over it, was fighting off the guys. I had to pull him off to let them finish the job. None of us could stop laughing at his antics. Evening rolled around and found everyone standing by the fire pit. Mu had retired to the warmth of my sleeping bag when out of the darkness came the howl of a wolf. We all jumped for our flashlights and began scanning around the camp. Sure enough the wolves had surrounded the camp and were intent on getting whatever they could steal. I went into a panic thinking Mu would come out and bolt for the wolves in the darkness. I rushed to the tent to leash him down before all hell broke loose. Well, there was Mu asleep with food coma totally oblivious to the world around him. He had his adventure and was happy to be in the warmth of the sleeping bag. He never knew that his brethren was just 50 yards from him. Oh and the wolves, they managed to steal the skull in the middle of the night.

Wilderness traffic jam
When Mu was a year old he was bred to one of Chris’s females. They produced two pups. I got one and called him Rowdy. Now I have two basenjis of which everybody took to calling them “the boys”. The dominant Mu and the sweetheart Rowdy.

On this trip we were again in the high country on a trek through some countryside that I wanted to explore for a future adventure. I was rounding a hill with the boys ahead of me when I noticed them standing stock still. They were looking at a large herd of elk not 50 yards from us. Suddenly, I heard a sound to my right and looked over to see a bunch of turkeys coming towards us. Now there we are, human, basenjis, elk, and turkeys all standing still staring at each other. For what seemed like an eternity we stood there until the turkeys decided that this was not a good situation and spooked. Well, this spooked everyone else and then all hell broke loose. There I stood with elk, turkeys and basenjis running in all directions around me. A total cluster f**k of creatures. All I could do was start laughing at the hilarity of the situation. Perhaps you have to be there to enjoy the moment but it was one of those rare experiences that one gets to enjoy in the wilderness.

On another trip into the desert mountains we were coming out after a long trek, looking forward to going home for a hot shower and a warm bed. We were following an ancient animal trail leading to my truck. It’s rough country so I had to be careful with my footing. I was concentrating on the trail when I suddenly looked up to find myself standing face to face with a bear. He was less than 10 feet from me and was also concentrating on the trail. Since I saw him first I didn’t quite know what to do as he was so close to me. Without thinking I shouted,”Hey!”. The bear looked up, stared at me and then let out a stream of poop in fear. By this time the boys had come out of the bushes to investigate what was going on. With one sight of the bear Mu took off after him. Rowdy is a lot more cautious than Mu and decided to stick with me. So we watched Mu chase this bear up a mountainside. The bear would occasionally look back to see this little red thing on his ass. He was scared stiff and would pick up speed with each look at Mu. Finally, Mu winded and gave up the chase. He came back with a wild look on his face and grin as big as he could produce. He was in his element. He had been on the chase and had done what his kind was bred for. It was a sight to behold and a rewarding moment.

Mu’s trophy
Desert mountain stream beds are the formations of the apex of time and space. The boys and I are part of the cause and we definitely suffer the inevitable effect. The canyons were unknown to me and I was pleased to be there. The local forest ranger had recommended an area that might be good for finding deep back country deer and I was on an exploratory trip to investigate it for a possible hunt. It would take me days to get there, be there and get out. All without the assurance of water. Therefore, I was concerned as I left the trail head and trekked into the first canyon. I was headed to a much larger canyon that would lead me deep into the wilderness, and as I had hoped, there was water and it was clear and running. This had the makings for a good trip. Relieved, I headed up the larger canyon and trekked for many hours along the canyon bottom. Eventually, I began to fatigue and in need of a rest I stopped and sat down under a large oak. I took out the canteen, the boy’s cup and poured them some water to drink (they prefer filtered stream water to unfiltered. Hey, they’re basenjis!). Typically, they share the cup but Mu got an attitude and snapped at Rowdy. Rowdy snapped back and a minor fight ensued. After yelling “Stop!”, I got them to settle down but Mu looked at me and with a huff he trotted off. I watched him go knowing that he would get over it in a few minutes. So, I grabbed an energy bar, took a bite and started chewing. I stared blankly off into space for awhile until I heard Mu coming up from behind me. He casually sat down beside me and began chewing on the leg of a deer. I did a double take and noticed that it was a large leg. Excited, I asked him where he had found it, of which, I got a nasty hate stare to let me know that I was on my own.. I looked at Mu, then Rowdy, then back to Mu and then back again at Rowdy. I asked him where the deer was, where upon, he trotted off in the direction that Mu had come from. I fell in line and followed him into the bushes. Sure enough, there were the remains of a deer in a small clearing not 10 yards from the trail. It was an older deer with an absolutely beautiful set of antlers. A wonderful trophy for my collection. I took the skull, cleaned it and strapped it to my backpack. We continued on up the canyon and into the heart of the wilderness.

Recently, a friend was over for a beer and some conversation. We were admiring my collection of deer antlers, drinking the beer and thinking about our hunting adventures and the memories that they produce. Admiring the largest set of antlers he asked me how I got those. I waxed eloquently about my trip into the unknown territory. I spoke of the deep canyons filled with cold running water and described climbing the steep hilltops to overlook the majestic mountains and valleys. Proudly, I recalled my serendipitous finding of the deer. After my lengthy diatribe my friend looked over at me and said, “David, It was Mu’addib who found the deer, therefore, it’s his trophy.”. I stammered. But I relented. Then, I smiled and while taking in the sight of the antlers I said, “ You’re right. It is Mu’s trophy.”.

Hey, it was a small tent!”
Mu’addib always had a way of deciding who was on the pecking order of the pack. Usually it was me, then Mu and everybody else way down on the list of importance. On this trip we were to camp with a friend who would meet us in the wilderness a few days after we went in. We spent our days exploring and wasting time until my friend would show up. On the third day we hooked up and trekked to our camp deep into the wilderness. Even if you are in physical shape there always comes a time when the body needs to rest. Mu reached this point upon the arrival to our camp. Stiff and sore he retired to the tent and the warmth of the sleeping bag. My friend and I busied ourselves with making a fire, fixing some food, getting some water and doing the little things one does in camp. Soon nightfall fell upon us so we decided to retire to the tent and get some sleep. Well, I went into the tent first and settled down into my sleeping bag. Typically Mu sleeps inside my wool jacket and Rowdy sleeps in a blanket. I was getting the boys settled in when my friend started to enter the tent. Well, for whatever reason, Mu growled viciously at my friend and forced him back out of the tent. Embarrassed, I quickly got up and out of the tent to apologize and reassure him that it would be okay and that he would get to sleep in the tent. But how to do that was the problem. Now, my friend had known Mu most of his life so it wasn’t as if we had a stranger among us. We were a bit confused and bewildered as we put more wood on the fire and foolishly contemplated the situation. So, there stood two grown men outdone by a 30lb basenji. We felt fairly stupid by this time as every idea we had seemed to risky. You see, it was a small tent and you had to enter it head first. Neither of us were willing to get our faces disfigured by a tired and grumpy basenji. So for awhile we stared stupidly into the flames of the fire. Then it started to snow. We looked at each other and thought “Crap! Now what?”. It was getting late, it was cold and snowing. We were getting desperate when in frustration my friend looked at me and said, “Hey, It’s your basenji. Do something!”. Dominance is about the only thing Mu respects, therefore I had to exert some form dominance and gain control of the situation. I marched over to the tent and started to talk to Mu in my “tough guy voice”. As I was doing that I forcibly bullied my way into the tent. I made sure that I didn’t look at him directly in the eyes thereby causing a challenge. Mu relented and let me into the tent. I then acted as if nothing was wrong and set about getting the boys tucked away to sleep. After I got them covered I waited a few minutes to let them calm down and called my friend in. He cautiously entered. As Mu was covered up he didn’t have to see my friend and he was able to get in and into his sleeping bag. Now we had to make it through the night. We did this without any problems. But in the morning my friend found himself with Mu inches from his face. He sheepishly said’ “Hi!”. Mu lifted his head towards my friend, closed his eyes in affection and let him pat him on the head. Problem solved. Mu had accepted my friend as a member of the pack and let him have his place in the tent for the rest of the trip.

Mu passed away just a few days short of his 11th birthday. I had to put him down after a year long struggle from complications with a staph infection. It was hard but I couldn’t let my companion suffer any longer. He was my first dog and I learned that the innate bond between a man and a dog is a beautiful thing. Mu will forever be in my memories and I shall cherish that fact.

In memoriam : Sundiata’s Mu’addib. November 25, 1999 to November 17, 2010


Friday, December 3, 2010


The judge was about halfway through the examinations of the Best of Breed dogs when I glanced up and caught him looking over at us while the dog on the table was being set up.  Some judges will only look at the dog in front of them, but sometimes a judge will surprise you by looking back at the lineup, out of order.  Quickly, I asked Pi to pose, and he took a step forward into a beautiful stance. The judge turned back to the dog on the table. 
I asked Pi to continue posing, and he stood calmly while other dogs were frisking about.  From the corner of my eye I was aware the judge was sneaking peeks at him.  The judge took his time making his selections, you could see he was deliberating.  He did not move us to the front of the line, so as to tip his hand, but in the end, he turned right to us, and Grampa Pi won Best of Breed. 
Pi is 6 years old this fall, and doesn't go to shows anymore; this was his second show weekend in 4 years.  His last time in the ring was a special request for Mama's Bucket List: his wonderful performance at Westminster (you can see it on the Westminster KC website video of the Basenji judging.) Other than that, Pi has been lying on the couch, cuddling in bed, and chasing squirrels.  He has been making his name as a stud dog, with 7 champions in the US, more on the way, and as many more in Europe.

But every now and then...Pi likes to take over from the younger brood, and strut his own stuff.
My somewhat grey-haired husband loved it.  He and Pi walked around the show site together, my handsome gentlemen, telling everyone the value of "maturity."   

And there is something to this, something for which dog shows in the U.S. are not designed.  We start puppies in the ring at 6 months of age, and some dogs finish their championships quickly, before they are a year old. But a dog that looks like at adult at 10 months is not done growing. What does that dog look like at two years, three years, or six years?  True, some dogs mature early and stop, holding their good looks for years.  But others keep developing, shooting past the mark, and end up not so handsome at maturity.  

A handler once bragged to me how she had finished a dog at 8 months, then laughed and added that it was a good thing, because by 9 months, she wouldn't have been able to finish him at all; he had "fallen apart." More than once I've heard someone wonder what happened to a dog who rapidly earned all its points, then disappeared into someone's back yard, no longer a dog one could exhibit proudly.

In some (all?) European countries, a dog cannot attain its championship until after a certain age, 2 years, I believe.  It must get its final win after that age.  This assures that the dog is judged at maturity, that the whole picture is seen.  I like this requirement.  What happens here in the U.S. is that dogs are bred for rapid maturity; breeders unconsciously select for dogs who look mature, dogs who can win, at six, seven, ten months of age.  I fear that owners will give up exhibiting a slower maturing dog, because they are not winning at ten months or fifteen months.  Yet at three, the dog is finally ready. This dog who matures later, who can win at three, four, six years of age, this dog will be beautiful for many years.

Just ask Pi.  His sire finished his championship at 6 years.  His half sister finished at 4 years.  Two of his sons finished at three years and four years.  

And this is why Pi's win at Harrisburg, PA, at 5.5 years of age, was an important one. 

Harrisburg, PA Aug 2010: Saturday

Welcome to my new blog. I wrote the first several entries several months ago, before I learned how to publish, so there is a small time warp here, but we'll catch we go:
We are finally getting settled enough in our new home, Philadelphia, a place I never wanted to live. We moved here after 25 years in Arizona, so you can imagine the cultural displacement I feel.  But it’s pretty here, and the people are nice, a gentle living of Americana, at least in my neighborhood.  And I've felt a lot better about things after we got the fence built.  It’s perfect for the dogs, a safe perimeter around our big square of grass and trees and bushes.
We are here because my husband, who is 55 years old, is a first year resident in podiatry at Penn. We turned midlife crisis into productivity, and he is sucking it all in, working long hours, helping many people.  He’s having the time of his life. 
We’ve been here since mid-June, arriving just in time for the all-time record-breaking East Coast 40+ day heatwave which made us all just miserable.  
Finally in August the temperature kindly took a dive into the tolerable 80s as Jim and I left our cozy neighborhood for the expressways through Philadelphia and on to Harrisburg, 2 hours west, to our first show weekend on the East Coast.  

The shows were all I’d hoped they would be, and more.  I met as many people as I could, both around the ring and at the yummy potluck held afterwards.  I found many like-minded new friends, and   it was refreshing to hear new lines of thinking, whether or not I agree.
The excitement of the show for us at SunDiata was our brace, Taffanel and her mama, Chaminade.  There was enthusiastic applause as our two little red girls paced each other carefully around the ring, turning nicely together on the down and back.  I think we liked this, and will try it again sometime.  The only part I hadn’t prepared for, I didn’t realize, was that I had to lift them both, together, to the table for examination. Seems to me, in the interest of healthy backs and so on, the Basenji brace could be judged on the ground.