Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Emmylou Harris
Singer helps Nashville’s homeless dogs.


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.




CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
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

More From The Bark

More in Humane:
Rolling Dog Ranch
Southern Dogs
Q&A with the Inmate Trainers of Freedom Tails
No Kill Nation
Saving City Dogs
Go Walk Shelter Dogs
Sanctuary Trend in Sheltering
Bringing Calming Music to Shelter Dogs
Animal-Kind International
Why Foster? Make a Dog Ready for a New Home