Writers and their dogs

More than one Island author has had a dog for a muse.



Our dog Henry, an Australian shepherd, was the inspiration for my second children’s book, “Henry the Dog with No Tail.” For years Henry and I walked a few times a week at Trade Wind Fields Preserve, a Land Bank property in Oak Bluffs, with the novelist Nicole Galland and her dog Leuco. Leuco was the inspiration for Galland’s novel “Stepdog,” a romantic comedy about how a dog can upend new love. When not walking with Galland and Leuco, we often met up at Trade Wind with the novelist Susan Wilson and her dog Bonnie, whom Wilson recently referred to as her muse. Wilson is the bestselling author of seven books featuring dogs, including “Two Good Dogs,” “The Dog Who Saved Me,” and “The Dog Who Danced.” That these three dogs who tumbled and tousled around Trade Wind all inspired books either says something about Trade Wind or writers with dogs. I’m going to go out on a limb and declare it’s writers with dogs. 

“I think dogs appeal to a broad subset of human beings,” said Wilson. “And, of course, I’m not just writing about dogs. I am writing about people and their relationships. The dogs either serve as a vehicle toward moving the story ahead, or they are the emotional anchor to the story.”

Galland’s “Stepdog” was inspired by real-life circumstances. “My husband and I had very different opinions about what was appropriate behavior for a dog,” said Galland, who allowed, maybe even encouraged, Leuco to sleep on the bed with her. Her Irish-born husband-to-be at the time was adamant that a dog’s place is on the floor, and not the floor of the bedroom: “I wrote a book that began by literally embodying his view of my dog.”

And so writes Galland in “Stepdog”: “I know Americans do that. I know Londoners do that. I know back in the Middle Ages, everyone did that, for warmth. But I couldn’t make the algebra work out here. Either the dog was on the bed, or I was on the bed, but not both.” 

As for Henry, he was indeed a dog with no tail, and while the real Henry didn’t leave home in search of a tail as his fictional counterpart did, watching his little waggling nub amid the free flow of swishing tails at Trade Wind gave me the idea for a story about longing for something you don’t have that seemingly everyone else does. 

Maybe it is Trade Wind after all.

“If you walk around Trade Wind, you see a lot of different kinds of dogs, and a lot of different kinds of dog personalities, and I try to think about some of the things that dogs have to contend with. And I use that to build the main dog character,” said Wilson.

Two of the characters in “Henry the Dog with No Tail” were based on dogs he encountered at Trade Wind. Grady was a kind and optimistic black Lab that started racing around with Henry when they were puppies stumbling over their oversize paws. And the know-it-all snob Larrisima “Larry” was indeed based on a dog who had little tolerance for Henry’s shenanigans. 

Neither Henry, Leuco, nor Bonnie are with us anymore, and in 2017 the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank put a fence around the perimeter of the field at Trade Wind, a controversial move that infuriated many dog owners. Things change, but thankfully, books inspired by dogs continue to be written.

Wilson now has a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and the same breed as the dog in her newest book. “She’s not really like my dog, but there are certain personality traits that a Cavalier has that were fun to be able to write about,” said Wilson. “What A Dog Knows,” published in June by St. Martin’s Press, is the story of a loner running from a rough past who works as a travelling psychic. After lightning hits her van during a thunderstorm, she discovers a dog has taken shelter with her, and realizes she can hear the thoughts of animals. (See our review of “What a Dog Knows,” elsewhere in this section.)

And Henry is making an appearance this summer, thanks to the Edgartown library’s Tails and Tales Summer Reading Program. “Henry the Dog with No Tail,” which was illustrated by my father, Jules Feiffer, is now the featured book at the storybook walk at Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary in Edgartown, and I will be doing a tale of a talk for young readers about the dog with no tail at the Edgartown library on July 20, at 10:30 am. 

For more about writing and the Islands writers, visit islanderswrite.com.