The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


Alexander Phemister, Boston Herald

The world held little attraction for "Congo" the day
this picture was taken. Too weak to stand, she had
been denied food, friendship and everything worth
"Congo" today with her pal "Boyce"
ARLY last winter I read a very interesting article in one of the popular American dog mag- 
azines: "Basenjis — The Barkless Dogs from Central Africa." The first Basenjis were brought
as presents to the Pharaohs from the source of the Nile, and must surely have found favor since
many of them are depicted in rock engravings sitting beneath the chairs of those masters they served
so long ago. These records can be seen at the Egyptology Department of the British Museum, dat-
ed 2300-4000 B.C.
It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that Basenjis were rediscovered and brought to
a second era of civilization, this time in the Western World. Two were shown at Cruft's, England, in
1895 and aroused great interest, but unfortunately they died of distemper. Once again in 1923,
several were imported from the Sudan by Lady Helen Nutting, but they died as a result of dis-
temper inoculation, then in its experimental stages. Finally, in 1937, Mrs. Burn exhibited some at
Cruft's, England. They were an instant success, and now the breed is firmly established in England -
three generations having been bred and reared there.
Basenjis have incredibly keen noses, scenting their quarry at as much as eighty yards. They are
known to wash themselves like cats. In fact, their cleanliness, total lack of doggy smell, neat size and
enchanting ways make them hard to beat as house pets.
Being a great lover of dogs, the few facts mentioned above gave me a burning desire to own one
of these smart little dogs. In the Boston Traveler of April 9, 1941, there appeared an article head-
ed, "Barkless Dog Arrives Here as Stowaway on Freighter." There was a picture of Fred Barrett of
the Animal Rescue League holding the frightened Basenji in his hands. She had just arrived in Boston
after a twenty-one day trip from West Africa. She made the journey in the hold of the freighter West
Leshaway, without food, drink or comment. When she was brought to the Animal Rescue League
she weighed nine pounds and was just about at death's door. With the care given at the League and
the courage to live and a healthy appetite she soon was on the road to recovery.
The day after the story was published I talked to the President of the League, and when he found
what I knew of the history of the breed, he asked me to drop over and see if the dog really was
this ancient breed, the Basenji. Mr. Sellar listened very carefully to what I had to say and drew me
out as to my knowledge of caring and conditioning dogs.
I asked him if the dog had not already been promised to someone who would give it a good home
if I might be considered as its future owner. Mr. Sellar said: "You seem to know more about the dog
than anyone and I don't see any reason right now why you can't have her, but you will have to wait
until we have the dog in good health again."
I was a regular vistor to the Animal Rescue League until I felt certain the doctors would ask me to
give them a chance to do their regular work. I would kneel down at the little Basenji's cage and pet
the poor thing, but she never showed a sign of recognition. Her timidness and nervousness were no
doubt increased by her terrible trip from Africa.
Finally, the day arrived when Mr. Sellar agreed with me that the little dog would do as well in my
care as she would in the hospital. By this time she had gained five pounds making her weight four-
teen pounds. She still had a colitis condition and a case of follicular mange. From this day on she re-
ceived the constant care and companionship of Mrs. Phemister and myself.
The first thing the little Basenji did on arrival at our home was to run and hide in the darkest
corner of the room. This behavior was natural instinct of the dog reverting to her wild life. I did not
let her know that I was aware of her timidness, and she gradually learned that anything I did was for
her care and welfare. Mrs. Phemister and I would allow her down into the living room from the
room we had set aside for her upstairs. During this period we completely ignored her presence in the
room, and it was not long before she made friends with us on her own accord.
In May we moved down to our farm in Kingston and she was given the entire loft of our barn as
her quarters. I started to take her for long walks in the woods. By this time we had decided that her
name should be "Congo". When "Congo" went into the woods with me I had her on a twenty-yard
stretch of rope for fear she would run wild. Just the noise of an automobile, let alone the sight of one,
would drive hear frantic. When I had the courage to let her go off the lead she never made any
attempt to leave my side. It was really in the woods that she regained her courage and started to
play with me, biting my legs and jumping all over me.
We finally put "Congo" on the regular food that dogs eat in this country and her intestinal trouble
gradually vanished. The mange cleared up with the persistent application of the medicine prescribed
by the doctors at the Animal Rescue League. She has gained five pounds, is in wonderful condition,
and has been inoculated against distemper. Her coat is without a blemish and felt as slick as satin.
I was fortunate in securing a male Basenji, the only other dog of this breed in America. The dog
was not doing well with its former owner and it was decided the companionship of my female would
go a long way to make its life a happier one. The male was four years old and is acting as a dad to
the little one. No matter how much "Congo" bites his legs or neck he just rolls her off, and if
"Congo" gets too frisky the male, whose name is "Boyce" just puts her down with his four sturdy
legs and tells her to behave herself.

Article reprinted from
Our Fourfooted Friends
August 1941 pp. 13, 14 & 18
Copyright © 1941 Boston Animal Rescue League, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.

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Phemister's Congo Page