Steph Cha:Me & My Basset

Cha DogRemember that show Room Raiders on MTV? It was this dating show where hopeful singles tried to assess the personalities and interests of potential mates by touring their rooms. Three years ago, my room would have told the story of a messy girl with a lot of books. Now? My figurines, salt shakers, and one prominent commissioned portrait point to one conclusion—that I am a shameless, tacky, irredeemable basset lady. (My bookshelves are also quite nice, though.)

Luckily, I paired off before this transformation. My husband Matt is at least as entrenched in basset culture as I am. He was the one who turned me onto this noble, ridiculous breed—he’d wanted a basset since he was a child. When we reached the point in our lives and relationship where getting a dog seemed possible, we weren’t sure whether we would prioritize finding a basset or a rescue dog. It turned out we didn’t have to. We googled “basset hound rescue southern california” and found the Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California, which is just a lovely, wonderful organization. We put in an application and went through a moderately intensive evaluation, which included a home visit from a sweet old lady who’d had over twenty bassets in her lifetime. One day I will be just like her.

Duke was the first basset we met after we were approved for adoption. According to his profile, he was about one year old and weighed just over thirty pounds (on the shrimpy side for a basset hound). He’d been found wandering around Hemet, unneutered with no identifying information. My heart still breaks when I think about Duke, walking alone in the desert—he can barely stand to be left home alone for an hour—but I’ve concluded he was so adorable he couldn’t have been a stray longer than ten minutes.

We drove to Fountain Valley where he was staying with a foster family, and he came bounding to greet us. He jumped all over us and ran around the house, slobbering and sniffing and making weird noises. When he was a little calmer, we took him on our first walk, just around the block. His foster mom warned us not to take him farther than we were willing to carry him back. It was a fair warning—a few minutes in he found a shady spot on some grass and showed us the meaning of the phrase “flat basset.” That might have been the moment we fell in love.

>When we went back to pick him up, he jumped right into our car and snuggled up in Matt’s lap. We decided he’d be very easy to kidnap, and would be worth less than nothing as a security dog. Still, the moved stressed him out. We spent our first two weeks as pet owners under a horrible reign of diarrhea. Over the next several months, he had both pano and major knee surgery, in addition to a series of undiagnosable stomach problems, and we were in and out of the vet every week or two. He was kind of a lemon, it turned out (our guess is that he’s a puppy mill dog, bred for maximum cuteness with no regard to health), but we’ve spent so much time and money rebuilding him that he more or less does what he’s supposed to now (sleeping, mostly, with occasional bursts of exercise).
Cha and Dog Two years later, Duke is fifty pounds of furry basset steel, and I can’t imagine life without him. He’s almost always with me when I write, often wedging himself between me and my laptop, one big paw landing on my keyboard. I’ve had a couple days at home writing without him, and I get so bored and lonely that my boredom and loneliness become distracting. It’s possible I get more done with his big basset butt settling on or near my elbow.

One of my best friends from college told me recently that while before Duke arrived, she would have described me first and foremost as a writer, now she would say, “Oh, Steph Cha? She’s a dog mom.” I think that’s about the size of it. If anyone wants to read 10,000 more words on my hound, let me know. I can talk about this basset for days.

Steph Cha
I was born in Van Nuys, CA in 1986. I grew up in Encino, had an uneventful high school life, majored in English and East Asian Studies at Stanford, and went straight through to Yale Law, where I graduated in 2010. I wrote the first draft of Follow Her Home while blowing off law school, and started querying my manuscript in my last semester. I took the bar, spent a year on my parents’ couch writing and shopping the novel, and then I sold it to St. Martin’s Minotaur in the summer of 2011. Since then I’ve split my time between writing and working as a temp attorney. That’s basically it?? Other than the book, my life story is very bland.

I live in Los Feliz with my fiance Matt and my basset hound Duke. I read a lot, 99% fiction. Some favorite authors – William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, Henry James, James Joyce, William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Chabon, David Mitchell, Chang-rae Lee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Don DeLillo, J. M. Coetzee, Cormac McCarthy, Joan Didion. As far as crime fiction goes, I love Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett (though I just read Dain Curse, and woof was it terrible), Ross Macdonald, Denise Mina, and Gillian Flynn.

Editor’s note: Ms Cha’s debut, FOLLOW HER HOME, is in stores now.