Nellie McKay’s Dog Song

By Jason Speck, December 2009, Updated June 2021

It isn’t often a musician finds herself compared to both Doris Day and Eminem. But Nellie McKay, a 19-year-old singer/songwriter born in London and raised in Harlem, draws such comparisons. It also isn’t often that songs are inspired in part by dogs named after Joey Buttafuoco. But McKay wrote such a song.

"The Dog Song", a bouncy piano-driven number that recalls Tin Pan Alley, is one of 18 songs on McKay’s first album, a double-CD set entitled Get Away from Me. The song came to McKay (pronounced Mick-eye) while walking through New York City as dawn broke and dog-walkers filled the sidewalk. She was reminded of Joey, a mangy-eared mutt that appeared on the doorstep of her childhood home one New Year’s Day morning. “I was so, so, so fond of Joey,” McKay recalls, “He was wonderful, even though he peed all over my mother that first day.” She already had the melody of "The Dog Song" in her head; the remaining pieces began falling into place that morning.

McKay grew up in a home that cares about animals. Her mother helped found Voices for Animals, an advocacy group that, among other things, protests the use of animals in circuses. And the liner notes on the back of Get Away from Me include the following statement: “Nellie McKay is a proud supporter of PETA.” But she doesn’t just support them—she once volunteered as an intern at a PETA office. “There were dogs everywhere,” she says with a laugh, “You had to step over a little gate every time you walked into a room!”

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 26: Spring 2004