The Rip Van Wrinkler, XXIII, Issue 3, August 2019

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by Marcia Woodard, originally published in the AKC GAZETTE "Breed Columns" November 2018 & the BCOA Yearbook, 2019.

photo by George Woodard

“VELVET SOAKED IN WARM WATER AND WRUNG OUT” “Velvet soaked in warm water and wrung out”—that’s how fancier Karen Christensen describes the feeling of a Basenji’s tongue. Not too wet, not too rough. Although there are Basenjis who never lick, many belong in what fancier Sally Wuornos calls the “OCD groom-your-human group.” The tongue action of these lappers is described as a “dermabrasion treatment” (Karen Christensen), or, in the words of fancier Lucy Khemka: “the sense of being hosed down.” Fancier Libby Cox and her husband Derek have discussed the “need to suspend or threaten to revoke a licker license.”

The Greeting. I like a licker. The relationship starts when they are puppies and their eyes first open: I hold them up close to my face to test if they will lick my nose. The first kiss. Fancier Susan Kamen Marsicano remembered a special greeting. Her dog Poet, circa 1977, was the first dog in the ring in the Bredby- Exhibitor class. When judge Anna K. Nicholas approached Poet on the table, they were at eye level, and he gave her a “big, slurpy kiss,” followed by eating the carnation pinned to her lapel. Nicholas said, “I told [the host club] I didn’t like to wear corsages.” Poet went on to win the class that day.

Ch. Apu's Precocious Poet and his "suemaw" ~ 1979

Exercise/sweat. On Mondays, we are the last yard of the day for our gardener Robert; afterward, he comes in to visit and to give treats to our pack. Lanikai and Lilikoi tagteam him, and each claim a side of his face: The combination of sweat and cut grass elicits industrial licking. I have never seen anyone who could sit still that long for something akin to the agitate cycle. After a few years of this, Robert thinks he might like to have a Basenji.

Rolling out an exercise mat at home and getting on the floor can be problematic if you like to work out alone: Basenjis view this as a buffet at their level. Fancier Patrick Schultz says, “Exercise becomes a ridiculous game of trying to lick my sweaty bald head with every push up or sit up.”

Rain. Basenjis don’t like to get wet, and they can’t imagine that their humans do. When fancier Khakie Jones was working, she and her Basenji Zeppelin rode public transit. “If it rained,” she says, “I explained to fellow riders ‘No my dog isn’t thirsty,’ as he was trying to dry me, my jacket, the backpack, and the umbrella—this started a lot of interesting conversations.”

Post-shower. Fanciers Jared and Barbara Reisinger‘s Gable dries their feet when they step out of the shower. “If he doesn’t magically appear,” said Jared, “We call out, ‘Gable, come pay your rent!’ and he scampers over to do so.” Fancier Chuck Bagnell’s Tali is only interested in his right foot: “If I open the shower curtain and put out my left foot, she ignores it.”

Lotion: the accelerant. My pack’s favorite is Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula. After I shower and they have competed with the towel to dry me, they gather and wait. When I sit on the edge of the bed and bring out the bottle, they divide themselves between bed and floor and claim a limb. I think some of the lotion still soaks in.

Bedtime: high season in a day of licking. “Zoe is my licker,” said fancier Mary Ellen Chaffin. “I think she’d lie on my chest and lick my face all night if I let her. I found I missed this ritual when she was so sick. Now, it’s part of how I know she’s feeling good.”

Fancier Linda McGuffin says her Zoe is thoroughly bathing her foot as she writes this. She does this every night after diving under the covers. She keeps it up till I give her a kneenudge. Then she starts on Titus’s ear. When he growls, she sleeps.”

“Tommy crawls under the covers, licks each foot once, does his turn-around, spins one to three times, and goes to sleep,” said fancier Lisa Bauer Saban. “He does this every night, every day of his life.”

Feet are yummy anywhere, not just under the covers. While dog-sitting our two young Basenjis, my niece’s husband, Don, taught them to clean his toes, and our girls came back to us as talented connoisseurs: They got their tongues between each toe and out the other side. Scuffling and posturing takes place when shoes and socks are removed, and the girls will either put a paw over your foot to hold it down like prey or will lie flat on their side for the best angle to get underneath. My 95-yearold Mom lets out a high-pitched squeal/giggle when they set to work on her feet. I’ve never heard that sound from her before.

Medical detection. I check places on my body that my Basenjis are obsessed with because they might be trying to tell me something. Fancier Paulette Rinck notes, “I have never had Basenjis lick me unless I’m sick or my blood sugar is too low.” Similarly, fancier Therese Leimback reports that her husband Kevin has had several Basenjis over the years that, in bed, “go right to the place his back hurts, and they lick with a warm, forceful tongue. He says it’s like getting a massage, and they always know the exact spot to go to.” Therese suspects the dogs smell the inflammation, and Kevin swears it has healing powers. Adds Therese, “It seems to be more a trait of female Basenjis.”

Hall of Fame nomination. Our first bitch, Saintly, would settle into licking and then leave this universe for another. If you passed a hand in front of her face, there was no reaction. She only came back to her body when you got in between her tongue and the target and shouted her name, and then her expression would be “Where was I?” In her happy place.
—Marcia Woodard, Basenji Club of America

Occhi & Sandy at the Hudson Valley Senior Residence ~ 2002.