“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.