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Emmylou Harris


“I wish we could take more. What we’re trying to do is get more people to foster for us. We’ll pay the expenses, the vet bills, the food, put them on the website along with the dogs who are here on the property, take them to dog adoption events. But physically, if we take more than four dogs, it really starts working against what we can provide for them.”


Dogs staying at Bonaparte’s are pictured on Harris’s website, and webmaster Kate Derr, who oversees day-to-day operations at the retreat, fields calls and emails from prospective adopters. Watching Derr’s gentle way with the dogs, you understand why Harris calls her “wonder woman.”


“Kate does everything,” Harris says. “She will set up a meeting for the person to come and meet the dog. If they’re interested, they fill out an application. Then Kate does a home visit to see if they have a fenced yard, just to check out everything. Then the dog goes for a home visit, to make sure they can get along with other animals there. There’s a three-week trial period. If it’s not a good fit, they can return the dog. Or if we decide it’s not right, we can take the dog back.


“The dogs have had all their shots. They’re usually crate-trained. We let people know if there are any idiosyncrasies about the dogs. And we want to know idiosyncrasies about the people. Because it’s a lifelong relationship. It’s a commitment. We want to make sure that the people are happy and that the dog is going to have a happy home.”


Harris’s rescue efforts speak to a larger problem in Nashville, as well as in many other American cities.


“There are approximately 11,000 animals euthanized at Nashville Metro every year,” she says. “It’s a statistic that’s terrible for a lot of reasons. If we had mandatory spay and neutering legislation, people would do the right thing. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. All around the country, there are communities who have taken on this problem and almost eliminated the unwanted cat and dog population.”


Harris’s animal advocacy recently earned her the George T. Angell Humanitarian Award from the MSPCA, along with a Humane Society fundraiser dinner in honor of her 60th birthday. While she appreciates the awards—and makes it clear that these days, she’d rather be recognized for her work with animals than her music—she knows there’s a lot more work to do.


As Harris sits in Bonaparte’s Bunkhouse, scratching Sally’s chin, she says, “The other side of all this—the heartbreak—is that there are thousands of dogs who are going to be put down. I know that I can’t save them, but it’s very difficult. You can’t put blinders on. I have to say, which dogs have been at Metro Animal Control the longest? And which ones look like they’re suffering from certain conditions that are being exacerbated by them being there? But why one dog and not another? It feels like ‘Sophie’s Choice’ sometimes. I’m haunted by certain faces that I know were there one day and the next, they were gone. It isn’t easy, but the thing that keeps me going are just those few that we’ve been able to place in homes.”


Listen to Emmylou sing “Not Enough”—her tribute to her buddy Bonaparte.




This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 52: Jan/Feb 2009
Bill DeMain is a freelance writer and muscian based in Nashville, Tenn. He's contributed to Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, MOJO and Eldr and is also one-half of the acclaimed pop duo Swan Dive. His favorite song is "Me and My Arrow" by Harry Nilsson. swandive.org

Photo of Emmylou and Keeta © Kate Derr/Bonaparte’s Retreat


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Submitted by tommy | May 10 2010 |

I have been a fan of Emmylou Harris since way back in the seventies, everything about her radiates kindness and as an icon she is someone to look up to. I too share her love of animals and likewise know the pain of losing a faithful loving dog. I too have taken in two abandoned greyhounds, one of which was cruelly mistreated, and they are both lively and welcome addition to my family. Oh, I should add the female is called Emmy! God bless you Emmy.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 7 2011 |

I've got my dog Maggz,about 5 yrs. old, I'm 4th owner & she stays here..................{:-}

Submitted by Kayleen | June 13 2011 |

Hi Emmylou,
I really admire you for the work you do in saving, loving and re-homing these animals. I lost my 3 beloved Chihuahuas, Mum and her two daughters 4 years apart. 2006 - 2010. Like you said too after losing your precious Bonaparte. I was devestated after losing my last one in October 2010. Took me 6 months before I could come to terms with wanting another. Then I found 'Buddy'. My long haired Chihuahua in April (2011) at the local RSPCA Shelter. He's very much loved, and has put the 'happies' back into our house. All 2 kilos of him. Thankyou for Bonapartes Retreat. Thankyou for the Music.
All the best with your valued work.

Submitted by Paul McClanahan | September 24 2012 |

Hi Emmy.

Good to know you love animals, I have been a fan of yours im 68 a Viet nam vet listen to you and enjoyed your music since i first heard you wonderful voice, So happy you did not quit singing i have travled many miles you with me in voice enjoyed every song, sometimes i dont think intertainer know how much enjoyment your talent bring to us fans. Keep on singing lady God Bless will be listing to yyour wonderful talent.

A fan for life. Paul

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