PERHAPS there is no better test of a family's love for their mixed breed dog than their description of it.
There are families whose little mutt has kite ears, a retriever tail, dachshund body and terrier whiskers and they'll tell you, without any apologies, that their dog is a gorgeous poodle.
Chris and David Powell and their two daughters, Marielle and Janine, own a small caramel-colored mixed breed named Caramel who has some beagle, a -- of this and that and a small bit of Basenji in it.
According to the Monkton family, she is a Basenji. Chris offers the family's loving description of her: ''She does have a terrier face but her body is Basenji.
Marielle, a junior at Hereford High School, adopted Caramel three years ago from the Baltimore County Animal Shelter when she was a puppy.
''Although I didn't want a dog, we said yes but made it clear that the cost and care was up to Marielle," says Chris. "We wanted her to learn that having a dog meant much more than just playing with it.''
Janine, in her second year at the University of Delaware, also claims Caramel and showers her with attention when she is home.
But the family member who wanted her the least -- Chris -- has become Caramel's best friend. Chris is an art instructor and artist who paints portraits of pets and people and says Caramel is with her most of the time. She also is her best model, sitting or lying patiently as students paint her.
''She loves being the center of attention,'' says Chris, who will use her as a model between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday when she demonstrates the development of a pet portrait at the Love Your Pets shop at 11322 York Road in Cockeysville.
Chris says she is connected with the Maryland Pastel Society, Portraits Representatives, Ltd. and Art Showcase Gallery and that her husband David is director of Information Systems at AAI Corporation.
''And, when he is at home, he could be called Caramel's butler,'' she says laughing.
It seems that Caramel loves going in and out of the house. ''She comes in the studio, goes outside, comes back to the dining room door so that David has to let her in, then she repeats her travels as if she is on some mission,'' says Chris.
According to breed information, the word Basenji means "bush thing" in African. It is the bark-less dog of Africa and a most unusual hound breed which has a decided curl in its tail. The noise it makes, rather than a bark, is a kind of whine or yodel. It is probably bark-less because the trait was bred into it over many years of being trained to hunt silently in the Congo and Sudan.
Not to mind that Caramel has a full, robust bark and a tail that does not curl. She's content with her life as a model, living with an owner who lets her sleep in her room, jogs with her and takes care of her, plus a butler to let her in and out of the house.
''She has won all of our hearts,'' says Chris. ''The girls treat her more like a sister than a dog. They hold her like she's a baby. Some friends say she resembles a beagle and I see that a little. But would you believe someone said she had Pekingese in her?''