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.
Dog's Life: Humane
Singer helps Nashville’s homeless dogs.
January 31 2013
On a sunny late-autumn afternoon, two bark-happy Chihuahuas, Jade and Coco, sprint across the grass and jump on Emmylou Harris. We’re in the spacious back yard of Harris’s Nashville home, which doubles as Bonaparte’s Retreat, a fostering service for unwanted dogs.
“Good girls,” says the legendary country singer, gathering the two dogs close to let them nuzzle and lick her. “Both of them were abandoned. The night we rescued Coco, she gave birth to five puppies.”
Harris also introduces us to Trooper, a black Lab; Preacher, a blond mixed-breed; and Gabby, an affectionate six-month-old puppy who, after spending her whole life at Nashville Metro Animal Control, has an eager handshake for everyone who comes close.
Finally, there’s Sally, a sweet, shy Terrier mix Harris describes as “a survivor and a heartbreaker.” Prior to coming to Bonaparte’s, Sally lived the first eight years of her life at the end of a five-foot chain in someone’s yard, with zero love and affection.
“Our mission is to take dogs who’ve run out of time,” says Harris. “This is a great situation compared to where they’ve come from. But it’s a halfway house. We do try to give them the royal treatment while they’re here, but they’re still in limbo, waiting for a home.”
Founded in 2004, the facility is named after one of Harris’s especially beloved dogs. “Bonaparte had this really friendly demeanor,” she says. “He was kind of a Poodle mix. Loved people, very sociable, loved other animals. I got this idea to take him on the road with me, and he was terrific. He loved the traveling, the bus, hotels, backstage. Of course, once you have the experience of having a dog on the road with you, you don’t realize how lonely you’ve been without one. So he went everywhere with me. He was my constant companion for 10 years.”
When Bonaparte died suddenly in 2002, Harris was devastated (for her most recent album, All I Intended to Be, she wrote “Not Enough,” a tribute to her traveling buddy). Not ready to think about replacing him, she channeled her love of animals into finding companions for others.
“I had this big yard, and I had seen an HBO special called Shelter Dogs that Cynthia Wade did,” Harris says. “I was very moved, and I thought, I’ve got the room—I could foster three or four dogs. So that’s where the idea came from. We took in our first dog in July 2004. Eventually, I felt some kind of call that I needed to focus on the dogs at Metro Animal Control. Nashville Humane does wonderful work—they’re a no-kill shelter. But at Metro, the dogs are on a very short time period before they’re euthanized if they’re not adopted—they’re on death row, so to speak.”
Building the retreat—which includes a generous run and a cozy bunkhouse—fulfilled one of Harris’s childhood fantasies. “When I was about 10, I wanted to live in a great big house and take in all the strays in the neighborhood,” she says.
Harris grew up in North Carolina and Virginia, and her love of animals was instilled in her at a young age. “My father had studied veterinary medicine. My grandfather kept hunting dogs. My father’s sister probably took in every stray in her town. I had an uncle who had a dairy farm with horses. There was always a sense of respect for animals. Children learn by example, and of course, they learn by having their own pets. I was lucky that way. I was taught compassion and love for animals.”
Aside from Bonaparte’s current residents, Harris and her mother Eugenia, who lives with her, have five cats and four dogs—all rescues.
With her unconditional love for all animals, how does Harris choose which dogs to take into the limited space of Bonaparte’s Retreat?
“Usually, the bigger and the older, the more—I don’t want to say the word ordinary—but there are a lot of black Lab mixes out there who aren’t Disney dogs. The longer the dog is in a shelter, the more likely they are to develop problems. They go kennel crazy. They can get very aggressive, even when that isn’t their nature. Or become very depressed. It works against them getting adopted.
“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.
A Celebration of the Pooch in Popular Music
April 16 2012
Musicians and dogs are a lot alike. Both operate on instinct and feeling. Both have finely tuned ears that can pick up good and bad vibrations. And both make the world a better place by helping others feel a little less lonely.
With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that there’d be mutual appreciation of the musical kind. While dogs compose their own spontaneous tunes—“I Haven’t Seen You in Forever!” and “Scratch My Chin Again” are two favorites—musicians have been a little more considered in their creations over the years.
The story of dogs in popular music began in 1853, when American songwriter Stephen Foster was given a beautiful English Setter, whom he named Tray. Foster so loved his pal that he wrote “Old Dog Tray,” a sentimental ode that became the blueprint for bow-wow ballads from then on.
In the early 20th century, dogs were roving through Tin Pan Alley in hits such as “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” and “Fido Is a Hot Dog Now,” a 1914 song about a naughty pooch who ends up in Hell.
But the modern era of pup pop didn’t begin until the mid-’50s when Patti Page wondered about the price of the doggie in the window and Elvis Presley complained about a hound dog on a cryin’ jag. Since then, artists from the Beatles to Neil Young to Red Hot Chili Peppers have done the dog. To celebrate this genre, here are the stories behind ten purebred faves.
“Martha My Dear”
Later, McCartney revised his take on “Martha,” calling it a song about “a muse.”
“I mean, I’m not really speaking to Martha. It’s a communication of affection but in a slightly abstract way—‘You silly girl, look what you’ve done.’ Whereas it would appear to anybody else to be a song to a girl called Martha, it’s actually a dog. And our relationship was platonic, believe me,” he added with a chuckle.
Shannon came into Gross’s life via his marriage in the mid-’70s, about the same time he was opening tours for the Beach Boys. Gross and Carl Wilson bonded over Irish Setters, as Wilson’s had recently been killed by a car.
To this day, Gross still gets letters from fans who find solace in the tender-hearted song. “Whenever somebody loses a dog, they hit henrygross.com,” he says. “I just e-mailed a guy who lost a dog—and this may sound corny, but I said, ‘Whenever a great dog dies, I see it as an opportunity to save another poor dog, to share your love with a soul nobody wants.”
“We wanted to write something really raunchy,” says Jerry Leiber of the song that became Elvis’s most successful single. In its original incarnation, Leiber says, the song was “about a woman kicking a moocher out of her house. He wasn’t literally a hound dog and he didn’t chase rabbits.” A few years after Big Mama Thornton’s original recording, Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell & The Bellboys did a comedic version of the song. They changed the mooch to a pooch. Elvis loved this version and basically copied it. Leiber says, “The lyric change bothered me, and I wasn’t crazy about Elvis’s version at first. But a couple of years later, it kind of grew on me.”
On June 5, 1956, Elvis caused a national sensation with the hip-shakin’ rendition of “Hound Dog” on The Milton Berle Show. A month later, a supposedly contrite Presley did the song on The Steve Allen Show. Dressed in a tuxedo, with instructions to curb his pelvic movements, he sang to a Basset Hound outfitted in a top hat. “That was Steve Allen’s humor,” Elvis said. “To me, it was about as funny as a crutch.”
“How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?”
As for Merrill, when he tried to write more legit music, his novelty tune dogged his trail. In 1957 he said, “When producers heard I was the guy who wrote ‘Doggie in the Window’ they wouldn't even listen to my songs." He eventually broke through on Broadway as a lyricist for Funny Girl, writing the hits “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade.”
Recently championed by Bob Dylan on his XM show, Theme Time Radio, “Dog” is enjoying a resurgence. Dorough, 80, has been getting occasional requests for the ultra-wordy tune at his live gigs. “I can perform it with two weeks notice,” he laughs.
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”
But Gernhard loved it. So much that he landed the Guardsmen a record deal. Three weeks later, the single was soaring like Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel up the charts. While Peanuts author Charles Schulz ended up taking a sizeable cut of the royalties (Gernhard didn’t get permission to use Snoopy), the Guardsmen pushed out a litter of follow-ups—“Snoopy’s Christmas,” “Snoopy for President” and in 2003, “Snoopy vs. Osama”—but never recaptured the glory of the first hit.
“Me and My Arrow”
Everything except round-headed Oblio, who is banished to the pointless forest along with his faithful Arrow.
When Red performed the song, grown men were known to weep when he reached the line about how Shep “laid his old head on my knee.”
In 1945, a 10-year old Elvis Presley made his first public appearance, singing “Old Shep” at the Alabama State Fair and winning a $5 prize.
Covered by many artists, including Johnny Cash and Alabama, this classic ballad was also the indirect inspiration for Old Yeller.
“Everything Reminds Me of My Dog”
“I learned a lot from my dog,” Siberry says. “I never would’ve been so tuned in to the minute nuances of the everyday light, except I had to walk him all the time. Now that I don’t have a dog, I notice how much less connected I am with the outdoor world.”
When Young’s bus pulled off the highway for a pit stop, Elvis hit the ground running, in search of olfactory pleasures. Young quickly lost sight of him. Then there was a burst of drenching rain.
Young knew that even with his super-sniffing nose, Elvis wouldn’t be able to find his way back. A search was fruitless. Neil had to make the next gig, but couldn’t bear to leave the dog behind. So he put down his old “lucky shirt” and a bowl of chow by the side of the road. Once he reached the venue, he sent a roadie back to the spot, and there was Elvis, ready and wagging.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Q&A with musician Moby
For the past decade, multiplatinum-selling composer Moby has been showing his affinity for dogs, cats and other critters by partnering with HSUS to raise money and awareness for animal rights programs. Among these endeavors is mobygratis, a generous trove of instrumental film music he’s written “for anyone in need of free music for their independent, nonprofit film, video, or short.” The music on mobygratis remains gratis as long as it’s used in a noncommercial, nonprofit way; if it’s licensed for a commercial film, all money generated goes to HSUS.
Bark: Why mobygratis?
Moby: Friends who are into experimental filmmaking said that one of the most difficult things is licensing music for their work. So I set up mobygratis as a way of helping students and others making these types of independent films.
B: Tell us about the music—is it mostly extra tracks?
M: In some cases, they’re extra tracks, and others, they’re pieces that I wrote specifically for the site. There’s a pretty wide range of music up there.
B: How has the response been so far?
M: Good! I haven’t really publicized it, but the music has already been used in about 3,000 different films. A few features, but for the most part, they’ve been short pieces—five to ten minutes long.
B: Why did you select HSUS?
M: I’ve worked with them quite a lot over the years. One of the things that impresses me most about them is their diligence and their persistence. And also, because they’re such a big organization, they’re actually able to accomplish a lot on a legislative level.
B: On your site, to promote your new album, you made an animated video of yourself being interviewed by a dog. Why?
M: I don’t know how to draw cats!
B: Beyond companionship, what do you think dogs teach us?
M: I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but they teach the idea of loyalty, and the capacity to find joy in just the simplest things—to be uninhibited in our emotions.
Find out more at moby.com.
More songs from the canine charts
Sure, the cat has sparked songs such as “The Cat Came Back” and “Stray Cat Strut.” And the horse has had his moments, from “Tennessee Stud” to “Wildfire.” Even the rat crept into the charts with Michael Jackson’s “Ben.” But for decades-spanning musical inspiration—from “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” to “Atomic Dog” and “Death of a Martian”—the dog is number one.
In our first look at dogs and popular music (“Pop Goes the Dog,” Feb. ’08), we sniffed out 10 classics from the 1950s to the 1970s. In this sequel, we dig up some treasures from the post-punk and contemporary eras. Reflecting the openness and candor of music in recent decades, many of these tunes go deeper than mere canine tributes. From the Stanislavski-like explorations of a pooch’s psyche to the dynamics of sexual attraction between dogs, here are the stories behind 10 modern all-breed favorites.
Composed by George Clinton
Performed by Parliament–Funkadelic
“Harmonic dogs, house dogs, street dogs … dogs of the world unite!” begins this supremely funky ode to the link between dog and man.
“I needed that heavy vibe,” George Clinton once said, “and I knew that the dog was the king of vibe from the old days of Rufus Thomas [“Walking the Dog”]. But I think ‘atomic’ had more to do with it than ‘dog.’ It was all this computer-age stuff and high technology. I wanted to get the two vibes, one futuristic and the other primal. That seems to be what the magic in the song is—that technology in the synthesizer, then that raw vibe of the woof. ‘I’m chasing the cat’ and lines like that, I was just doing that symbolically, like chasing a woman or whatever—those instinctive things, the automatic muscles.”
The song was later sampled by Snoop Dogg in his 1993 hit, “Who Am I (What’s My Name?)”
Composed by Tom Waits
Recorded by Tom Waits
What’s a rain dog? Tom Waits has an idea: “You know, dogs in the rain lose their way back home. They even seem to look up at you and ask if you can help them get back home. Because after it rains, every place they peed on has been washed out. It’s like “Mission Impossible.” They go to sleep thinking the world is one way and they wake up and somebody moved the furniture.”
Waits, once a vagabond who made fleabag hotels his home, identifies with these hounds, singing: “Taxi, we’d rather walk, huddle in a doorway with the rain dogs/For I am a rain dog too.”
Not only has Waits put canine themes to work on other songs—“Dog Door” and “Puttin’ on the Dog”—but as he once mused, “My career is like a dog. Sometimes it comes when you call. Sometimes it gets up in your lap. Sometimes it rolls over. Sometimes it just won’t do anything.”
Composed by John Linnell and John Flansburgh
Recorded by They Might Be Giants
While researching the digestive system back in the early 1900s, Russian physician Ivan Pavlov discovered that he could condition dogs to salivate by announcing meals with some external stimuli—a whistle, a metronome and, most famously, a bell.
A heady subject for a pop song? Not in the hands of the quirky Brooklyn duo They Might Be Giants, who honored Pavlov’s pooch in “Dinner Bell.” With its bouncy counterpoint vocals pitting “salivating dog” against a list of victuals (chowder, egg, garlic bread), the song transcends its humorous tone to address the modern human dilemma of having too many choices.
“We’ve often had this problem of people considering our songs to be novelties or jokes,” Linnell observes. “To us, our songs are very meaningful, and the whole point is that they’re saying something. But they sometimes have the structure of a joke. Part of the effect is that it lightens the song up so it’s not pretentious.”
Classical conditioning never sounded so fun.
Dixie the Tiny Dog
Composed by Peter Himmelman
Recorded by Peter Himmelman
A dog who dances like Fred Astaire in the moonlight, revels in a Germanic background and boasts about a Houdini-like ability to escape, Dixie may be tiny, but she’s proud. Or is it “he”? Peter Himmelman will only say that “Dixie is a very soulful animal, able to find joy in the minutiae of life.”
A composite of a several Dachshunds Himmelman has known, “Dixie” trots along with nimble phrasing, “mimicking a dog’s thought patterns.” Though it was released online only, it’s one of Himmelman’s most-requested live songs.
“When I perform it, I really feel dog-like,” Himmelman confesses. “Like this small, brown, coarse-haired dog who’s very sharp, very observant. I’m channeling what this dog might be seeing and thinking.”
When he’s not method acting, Himmelman makes music for both adults and children (the Grammy-nominated kids’ album My Green Kite is his latest), and scores the TV shows Men in Trees and Bones. He’s penned two other canine-inspired tunes, “Willa” and “Theo,” but it’s “Dixie” that touches the underdog in all of us. “It’s a song for everyone who feels like they’re not as good as other people,” Himmelman says.
Composed by Neil Finn
Recorded by Neil Finn
“It was written in honor of our family dog,” New Zealander Neil Finn says. “Lester was a Dalmatian, and when he was a year old, he was hit by a car. He nearly didn’t make it. I got home from the vet’s that day and wrote this song.”
In this plaintive acoustic ballad, which is featured on Afterglow, a Crowded House rarities collection, Finn promises to be a better person if Lester is allowed to live, while expressing thanks for the dog’s “good luck and strong bones inside and behind him.”
Finn wrote with such compassion that his producer, Mitchell Froom, mistook Lester for a human. “I didn’t tell him it was about my dog, and he thought I was talking about my manservant,” Finn says with a chuckle. Lester went on to star in several Crowded House and Finn Brothers videos, and was reportedly the inspiration for another Finn song, “Black and White Boy.”
Gimme Back My Dog
Composed by Brent Best
Recorded by Slobberbone
“It was mine before I met you,” sings Brent Best about the dog who’s the unwitting rope in a breakup tug-of-war.
“I remember writing it in my head while I was mowing my parent’s lot in Lucas, Texas,” Best says. “We had recently lost our family dog. Scooter was an old Dachshund and thought he was much bigger than he was. One night, he went after some coyotes. They made short work of him. I’d also been through a really bad breakup, so somehow, it all meshed together as one thing. The dog ended up representing all the things that you have in place before you enter a relationship, and then you don’t have in place when things go wrong.”
The song, one of the now-defunct Slobberbone’s most popular, grabbed the ear of novelist Stephen King, who name-checked it in Black House, and later called it one of the “three greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time.” (The group took their name from a doggie chew toy.)
Best, who now fronts alt-country band The Drams, recalls, “A friend once said, ‘This will be the song that will end up driving you mad because people will want to hear it all the time.’ And he was right.”
Composed by China Forbes and Thomas Lauderdale
Recorded by Pink Martini
Girl and boy dog pass on the street. Eyes meet. Hearts and tails flutter. They go their separate ways, and boy dog is stricken forever. That’s the story in this playful salsa number.
Singer China Forbes says, “Lilly was inspired by my dog Foxy, and the male suitor was inspired by Thomas’s dog Heinz. Basically, they had this really cute flirtation. Foxy is a Corgi/Papillon mix, so she looks like a little red fox. Heinz is this enormous yellow Lab mixed with St. Bernard. He had one of those enormous bones that was bigger than Foxy’s entire body. But Foxy would always get it away from him immediately when she came to visit, then totally terrorize him. So she became this femme fatale every time she saw Heinz, and had him wrapped around her tiny paw.”
Forbes and Lauderdale thought their song was “a jokey little throwaway,” but their producer convinced them to put it on their Hang On Little Tomato album. “It’s become really popular with the fans,” says Forbes, adding with a laugh, “especially our fans who are under 12.”
The Dog Song
Composed by Nellie McKay
Performed by Nellie McKay
McKay’s childhood dog Joey inspired her jaunty sing-along tune.
“I named him after Joey Buttafuoco,” the Brooklyn-based songstress and animal activist reveals. “It just seemed to fit. He was a mix of all kinds of crazy and contrary breeds. And he was my brother. I always remember how he wore his scarves, and he would jump like a deer when he was chasing a stick. He was the best dog.”
But not the best audience, even for songs written in his honor. “Joey always hated my music,” she sighs. “He’d put his paws over ears and start yelping.” Fortunately, McKay’s fans have had a much more positive response to her signature tune.
“It’s optimistic and joyful, and people respond to that,” says McKay, who’s currently scoring a stage version of the film Election. “What I really love is how people have used the song for video footage of their own dogs. On YouTube, there’s one called Annie who is just the happiest dog. I can’t imagine my music being put to any better purpose than showcasing those lovely, happy canines.”
My Dog Was Lost But Now He’s Found
Composed by Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger
Recorded by The Fiery Furnaces
Matthew Friedberger knows there’s nothing’s worse than the feeling you get after you lose your temper with your dog.
His rousing song starts with a confession—“I kicked my dog/I was mean to him before/I guess that’s why he walked out my door”—then leaps into a desperate search for the fugitive pup.
“The lyrics were inspired by my dog Jargon,” Matthew has said. “When you adopt a dog, you’re excited. But then you also have frustrations because maybe you don’t realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. And so it’s about the kind of remorse you feel at sometimes being annoyed at walking your dog at 6:30 in the morning when it’s 15 degrees below zero. Not that he wanted to go out then either. But sometimes, just like anyone you’re living with, you get frustrated with them.”
Happily, the song ends with a reunion. Friedberger reckoned, “Adopting a dog is really an opportunity to restructure your life in a way that is very rewarding. I think as long as you think of it like that, then it’s a great thing to do.”
Death of a Martian
Composed by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Performed by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Self-enlightened, perfect in conduct, a teacher of humans—is it coincidence that the three essential characteristics of the Buddha also happen to be those of the dog who inspired this song?
“She was kind of a weird pillar of love and happiness and strength,” singer Anthony Kiedis says. “I was coming out of some dark times, and Flea [the Chili Peppers’ bass player] was going through a difficult period. And here was this 200-pound dog who was just very chill and very calm and very loving who was there every day, crashed out in front of the garage while we were rehearsing. Martian was sort of like our little spirit guide.”
Sadly, as the Chili Peppers neared completion of their Stadium Arcadium album, Martian fell ill. Kiedis recalls, “When it became clear that she was dying, I felt a huge sense of loss. But this beautiful energy. This little angel, it was time for her to be on her way.”
Of the band’s heartfelt tribute, Flea says, “She was such a great dog. I’m glad that she’s going to be immortalized in history.”
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