The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library

MRS. BESSIE BIRDSBY, has written a long
letter in which she decries, among other things,
the concern of some of us in the Basenji Club of
America about the serious lack of outcrosses and
our consequent pre-occupation with the subject
of African dogs.
"Why not leave well enough alone?" she asks.
"Our Basenjis as they are today represent one of
the greatest triumphs of selective breeding. There
appears to be considerable worry over the fact
that their ancestry was only 12 dogs, but at least
we know who those 12 were. Why jeopardize all
the years of careful, scientific work by the pio-
neers of the breed, with coarse, wild-doglike
specimens of whose temperaments and back-
grounds we know nothing?"
Mrs. Birdsby ignores the recurring question:
Can a breed maintain itself on a base of only 12
African Basenjis (7 dogs, 5 bitches), several of
which have had no influence whatever on the
lineage of most present-day Basenjis? Eight were
imported into England; only four came direct
from Africa to the United States. It is believed
that probably six of them were already closely
There is no other enjoying the Basenji's pre-
sent popularity and numerical importance that has
had such a tenuous, almost implausible beginning.
How many more decades can the Basenji, with-
out a revitalizing infusion of African blood, remain
a Basenji?
Most of the popular breeds of dogs were
produced by deliberate combinations of older
breeds. As these new breeds were being estab-
lished, outcross blood was introduced from
whatever source was deemed necessary. In the
case of the Basenji, this was not done, for it
could not be done without destroying the dog in-
side the skin —the very essence of the Basenji.
When inter-breeding has been tried, the get has
been neither distinctive nor barkless.
While our early Basenji breeders perpetuated
Basenji-type by careful in-breeding, there have
been novice breeders who have not been so
knowing or so careful, to wit, the serious faults
that might have been eliminated but have been
compounded to plague us to this day.

top of page

 We have almost exhausted the possibilities for 
further safe in-breeding and, in the year 1958,
with most of our dogs now so closely related,
there are relatively few outcross Basenjis. More
than one Basenji breeder feels that unless new
African blood is introduced into the breed, the
Basenji will eventually disappear as such.
Undoubtedly apprehensive of the future,
Veronica Tudor-Williams four years ago wrote in
"Basenjis, the Barkless Dogs":
"We do not want the Basenji to lose its origin-
ality. It is still the unspoilt dog whose brains have
not been bred out, and it would be a tragedy if
popularity caused them to be commercialized and
The Basenji did not spring from the forehead
of the proprietor of a puppy factory nor was it
put together by a committee. The African bark-
less dog of equatorial Africa and of our sales li-
terature is a well-defined breed created by Na-
ture in one of her happier epochs. Apparently it
has associated with man long before the building
of the Pyramids. It is still used as a hunting dog by
primitive tribes and , in some spots, by veritable
stone-age people. It is one of the few natural
dogs on the roster of breeds recognized by the
American Kennel Club. Can Basenji character-
istics be preserved without periodic replenishment
from the source? If we desire to keep our dog an
authentic Basenji—and many of us will settle for
no less—its appearance must always signify sta-
mina, speed and agility, combined with an air of
inquiry and self-assertiveness. The small, dark,
oblique eye, the wrinkled forehead, the pliable
skin, the fine coat, the curled tail and the precious
quality of reticence must be retained. Most im-
portant, the Basenji must always convey the im-
pression that it can, if given the opportunity, func-
tion as a hunting dog.
Reginald M. Cleveland, judge and authority
on Working Dogs, summed this point up very
neatly in a recent talk to the Dog Fanciers'
Luncheon Club in New York: "Just as a Standard
should set forth the utility and purpose of the dog,
the general appearance must always indicate the
utility of the dog."
These are questions that should be pondered
by every admirer of these dogs, including Mrs.
Birdsby, who, if the mail has arrived, is probably
sipping her morning coffee as she reads this, her
lovely red-saddled white boy, Ch. Bessie's
Babakitabu of Kikuyu, beside her, looking up at
her with round, golden eyes.—Walter Philo, NY,
New York

Article reprinted from
Pure-Bred Dogs: American Kennel Club Gazette
Volume 75 Number 9 September 1958 p. 46
Copyright © 1958 AKC, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.