Musicians' Best Friends
Eddie Van Halen's pet Pomeranian, Kody Van Halen, has his own Facebook page. When Miranda Lambert married Blake Shelton, two dogs served as "flower girls." Likewise, Elton John's marriage to David Furnish was presided over by "best man" Arthur, one of the couple's cocker spaniels. Emmylou Harris' heartbreaking 2008 song "Not Enough" was inspired by the loss of her poodle-mix, Bonaparte. And the ruff life of Gene Simmons' dog, Snippy, is lovingly displayed on the reality TV series "Gene Simmons Family Jewels."
While we all love our pets, there's something about the bond between musicians and their dogs that seems larger than life.
"Dogs bring so much to your daily life, whether it's at home or traveling on the road," says Harris, who channeled her grief over Bonaparte's passing into opening Bonaparte's Retreat, a dog rescue she operates out of her Nashville home. "Their sense of enjoyment of the world and their excitement at seeing you is so profound. I just found I enjoyed the road even more having Bonaparte with me."
That feeling of companionship is echoed by other artists who tour with their canine friends. Carrie Underwood calls pups Ace and Penny "a little piece of home," and says she can't imagine hitting the road without them. Similarly, Lambert tours with a pack of dogs, including the abandoned strays she's famous for rescuing from roadside ditches.
"They love you no matter what," says Lambert. "I come off the stage and I may have just played for 18,000 people but they don't care. They don't care who I am, they're just glad to see their mom. There's no feeling like that."
Until Bonaparte, Harris assumed an itinerant musician's life wouldn't be dog-friendly. "One day I just decided, 'I think Bonaparte might like to go on the bus,'" she recalls. "It was almost like he was born to be a bus dog. He was really people-friendly, and he had no neurotic tendencies. Some dogs don't like to be in cars or are freaked out by new places. But he was perfectly content. He loved the road and he loved the hotels and venues. That's when I realized: 'All of those years I wasted, not having a dog.'"
Today Harris travels with two large dogs. "I have a big black dog and a big yellow dog that get along fantastically and really love the road," she says. "In fact, they get upset when I have to go out without them."
Colbie Caillat wouldn't dream of touring without her trusty Maté, but she knows firsthand that not all dogs adapt well to a tour bus.
"A couple years ago my mom brought our family dog, Roxy, and she was terrified of the bus," recalls Caillat. "The [sound of the] generator scared her [and] she'd jump on the bed and shake. So I was worried Maté would be scared, but he's been wonderful. He grew up on the bus. We got him [when he was] a month old and he's been on the bus ever since. He was even potty-trained on the bus."
Heart's Nancy Wilson has been known to share her love for furry friends. In April, Wilson shared the unfortunate news of the passing of her longtime companion, Charlie, via a letter to her fans. "Not only did he raise my kids but [he] was my companion in a trillion hotel beds, hallways, lobbies, elevators, and more than a few pools," she wrote.
Country artist David Nail isn't convinced about touring with his dogs. While he calls his Goldendoodle Charlie "the best dog in the history of the world," Nail leaves dogs Charlie and Rainey at home. "Maybe if I had my own bus and didn't have a band on there I would [bring them], but I can't imagine my dogs really enjoying the whole moving-down-the-road-eight-hours-a-day thing."
A mutual love for dogs enables many artists to connect with their music-loving and dog-loving fans. Nail tweets photos of his dogs and when Rainey joined the family fans helped pick a name via Facebook. Caillat once surprised her boyfriend Justin Young by letting Maté walk onstage during his set. "Everyone in the audience went crazy taking pictures," she says. "They loved it."
Lambert keeps an active Twitter presence and her dogs are always a favorite subject. She's known for tweeting photos of her latest dog rescues, as well as her anger toward those who dump animals out in the country where she lives.
"I think a lot of times it helps get people interested in adopting animals, because they see what great dogs are out there," she says.
For some artists, it's a short step from animal lover to animal advocate. Caillat is an active supporter of the Humane Society of the United States, and advocates adopting dogs from shelters at her concerts. Harris' Bonaparte's Retreat finds adoptable dogs who have run out of time at Nashville's animal control center and fosters them until they can be placed in "forever homes." She estimates they've saved more than 100 dogs since opening in 2004.
In 2009 Lambert founded the MuttNation Foundation, which raises money for animal shelters across the country. The foundation also puts on the annual Cause for the Paws benefit concert, which was held this year on June 22 in Beaumont, Texas.
If the music world has gone to the dogs, these artists say it's with good reason.
"My dogs keep me grounded," says Lambert.
"I think if I didn't have dogs in my life I'd be a stressed-out person and I wouldn't be writing songs," echoes Caillat.
(Lisa Zhito is a Nashville-based writer covering country and contemporary Christian music.)