Sunday, April 25, 2010

Man's "Best" Friend

The Noble Basset Hound

All through my life, as long as I can remember, I’ve had a dog. Growing up my family had Sammy, then Curly and Fang, later Sebastian, Java, Cruiser, Merlin and Strider. Some were owned by one of my brothers, but all were part of my life for a period of time. After I married, almost twenty five years ago, my wife and I went about two years with just the two of us. No kids and no pets, except for two Lady Gouldian Finches affectionately named David and Laura. Surgical residency and my wife working full time as a nurse kept us too busy for a dog with only a minimum of time together.

However, in 1987, as a fourth year resident at Nassau County Medical Center on Long Island, we decided it was time to make an addition to our family. We still weren’t ready for children, but a dog seemed like it would be a proper addition to our household. We spent hours studying different dog books, considering breed temperament, ease in training, need for attention, friendliness with children and every other quality we could think of. After all this studying we settled upon the Basset Hound; quirky, wrinkled, short and crooked, stubborn, lovable, devious and noble. We never knew what hit us.

We started studying the classified ads and soon found a breeder in Eastern Long Island that had a red and white female available and a few weeks later Pokey T. Basset Hound joined our family. (The T stood for “The”). Pokey instantly made herself at home. She marched into our one bedroom apartment, peed on the paper we had laid out and curled up in the doggy bed we had set up in the kitchen and went to sleep. I think this was the first and last time she slept in the kitchen.

She was a very intelligent beast who never believed that she was a dog. As far as she was concerned she was another person. She preferred to eat food from our table, to sleep in our bed and spend her free time staring out the window and barking at any dog that happened by. But she was devoted to us, as long as we did things on her terms. Almost every day, after dinner, she would sit next to me on the couch and look me in the eye as if to say “Well, aren't you going to play with me?”

At that point I was expected to get up and run around room with her. Of course it didn’t matter if I’d been up for thirty six hours; she came first.

I'd tell her to find her squeaky toy, and then she'd run around the room, searching under all the furniture until she found the elusive toy. She would hand it to me and I would throw it in different spots and she would race after it and bring it back. The fun part for her was the tug-of-war that ensued as I tried to extricate the squeaky toy from her powerful jaws.

After Pokey had grown and settled in to her routine; becoming accustomed to her life as the object of devotion for my wife and I her orderly schedule was rudely interrupted by the arrival of our first child. Pokey wasn't sure what to make of this new addition to the family but she knew she didn't like it. However, being the intelligent dog that she was she quickly learned that our daughter was something to be cherished and protected and they soon became fast friends.

Like all dogs Pokey could not live forever. About a month before she left us Pokey's life was turned upside down by the arrival of Genevieve, our second Basset hound. Genevieve is a tricolored Basset who joined our family when she was about seven weeks old. She did her best to become friends with Pokey, but Pokey remained aloof, refusing to fraternize with a mere dog. After Pokey's departure our third Basset hound, Bonnie, became part of the family. Bonnie is a red and white Basset hound, similar to Pokey, but with a very different personality.

Bonnie and Genevieve have been with us for more than 10 years now. They both have an uncanny knack for finding the most comfortable spots on couches and chairs in our living room, ignoring the cushioned dog beds that are spread throughout the house. They both perfected the art of the Basset beg. Bonnie will jump up, put her front paws into your lap, stare into your eyes until your resistance is shattered and you give her a treat. Genevieve will rub her backside against the cabinets and cry until you come and see what's wrong and finally reward her with one of her favorite treats.

Both of them look forward to going out on walks, a time when their noses will lead them to bizarre and delectable treasures. Dead animals, discarded food, foul-smelling patches of grass that must smell sweet and enticing to the sensitive Basset nose are some of the prizes that await them in the outside world. Traces of scents from hundreds of other dogs all require close scrutiny. Bassett hounds have one of the most sensitive noses of all the dog breeds. Probably only the bloodhound has a superior sense of smell. Walking the Basset's after a summer shower provides an endless stream of odiferous delights for these dogs. They are built low to the ground and those long floppy ears fan the varied scents to their waiting nostrils. The Basset hound is truly a remarkable bit of engineering; perfectly designed for their primary task of tracking by scent.

Occasionally, Bonnie and Genevieve will get out of the confines of our backyard and investigate the neighborhood independently. Once the escape is discovered, I will go out and try to find my wayward hounds. Of course they are aware that they are AWOL, and when they hear their names they will look up, acknowledge your presence, and then go back to what they are investigating. When they are finally finished, and only when they're finished, they will slowly saunter towards home, on their terms, stopping along the way to investigate any new smells that may pass through their nostrils.

If the pursuer tries to chase them, unlike other dogs, they won't run away; when approached, they will roll onto their back and want you to rub their tummy. At this point, you have a choice: carry the wayward Basset home, drag her or allow her to finish her studying and come home when she is good and ready.

I'm reminded of one time when we went to the big dog show at the Reliant Center here in Houston. This show allows spectators to get very close to the dogs and see them in their preparation area as the handlers groom them for the upcoming performance. One can stroll among the various cages and pens, watching the different breeds obediently await their time in the show ring. The Bassett hounds, however, are not content to merely lie down in their cage or sit in their pen. When they see an unwitting spectator stroll by, they begin their routine. They will present their saddest, most depressed looks in an attempt to entice the unknowing passerby to come closer, then they will jump up on the edge of the pen and expect to be rewarded. Show dog or home dog, a Bassett hound is still a Bassett hound.

Such behavior isn't the mark of nobility, you may say. However, the regal confidence and majestic appearance of the Bassett hound certainly can be summed up as noble. The dictionary defines noble, as “of exalted rank, or impressive or stately appearance.” Nothing can define a Bassett hound better than these words. Although they are often presented in the media as slow and fat and lazy, the reality is that this regal canine is none of these. So, if an independent, stubborn, clownish, clever, lovable dog is on your wish list, take a close look at the “noble” Basset Hound.