Cassandra Dunn: “If you own a Vizsla, it lives on your head.”

Posted by on Nov 15, 2014 in Featured, Writers with Dogs | 0 comments

Cassandra Dunn: “If you own a Vizsla, it lives on your head.”

Today’s post is from Cassandra Dunn, author of The Art of Adapting, a novel about a recently divorced woman who rises to the challenge and experiences the exhilaration of independence with the unlikely help of her brother with Asperger’s, who she takes in to help pay the rent.

When I first brought my Vizsla, Toby, home, he was a rotund, wiggly nine-week-old ball of love and energy. His beautiful russet coat, green eyes, and soft, droopy ears made up for the fact that he cried all night in his crate and chewed the legs of every piece of furniture in the house. To begin his training, I took him to a puppy class where he failed at every skill except sitting prettily for the reward at the end. They had puppy free play time in the middle of every class, a chance for the pups to romp together, chew on each other’s heads, get some energy out before getting back to training. Each time I unleashed Toby and sent him toward the pile of frolicking puppies, he ignored them. Instead, he made the rounds among the people, hogging all of the human pets and love for himself. That’s still his way, eleven years later. I don’t take Toby to dog parks, because he isn’t that interested in other dogs. He prefers to spend his time greeting every single person there. Some dogs don’t like their owners cheating on them by loving on other dogs, so Toby’s been attacked by more than one possessive pooch. So instead, we hike.

The art of AdaptingWe have covered hundreds of miles of open space in our eleven years together. For Toby, he gets a chance to use his natural instincts: to flush game, course fields, freeze on point when he alerts to a bird hidden in the tall grass. I get to take a break from the chores of daily life, from the blank page waiting for words, and clear my mind. Toby and I both find great inspiration out on the trails. When we get home, he naps and I write. I’ll admit, on non-hiking days he’s not the best writing companion. He has a jealous hatred of my laptop, and when I’m paying too much attention to it, he’ll come bump my elbow with the hard dome of his head, forcing himself between me and the keyboard. Sometimes he’ll climb right on top of me in my narrow desk chair, all 55 pounds of him, balanced precariously on my lap like a hugely overgrown cat. There’s a Hungarian phrase: “If you own a Vizsla, it lives on your head.” They are very affectionate dogs.
He’s also a good listener. When I read my work aloud to find the slow spots and sticky word strings, he parks himself on the couch next to me and only snores a little.

I was working on my novel, The Art of Adapting, with Toby by my side every day, so it’s no surprise that a Vizsla trots majestically through the story a couple of times, captivating one of the characters. Or that the characters meet a hyper little Vizsla up close to see how beautiful, smart, but rambunctious they can be. I used a female Vizsla in the book. After all, it’s a work of fiction. But Toby gets full credit for the inspiration.

Cassandra Dunn is the author of The Art of Adapting: A Novel (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster). She received her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and a finalist for Clapboard House’s Best of the House. Her stories have appeared in All Things Girl, Midwest Literary Magazine’s Bearing North, Read Short Fiction, Literary House Review, The MacGuffin, 322 Review, Fix it Broken, Clapboard House, Every Writer’s Resource, Rougarou Fiction, and Sand Canyon Review.
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