Emmylou's love for animals began when she was four years old, with a cocker spaniel-Mexican spitz mix named Duchess. The pup lived to be 13, and the singer says it was "devastating" for her to lose the only dog she'd ever known. "Soon I went off to college and I never owned another dog until I moved to Nashville and bought a house with a yard," she tells The Boot.
In fact, Emmylou rescued her first dog at that time, a Cairn terrier named Radar, because she thought her daughter should experience the joys of owning a pooch.
"We went to Metro Humane Association and got Radar and my idea was that since I had the huge yard he would be an outdoor dog. Right! Obviously he was a small dog so he became an indoor dog, and I started learning about dogs. Then we got Bonaparte as a companion for Radar but he ended up being my traveling companion and went everywhere with me for 10 years. So Bonaparte's Retreat celebrates his life and all he meant to me."
Emmylou had done no previous rescue work before she opened the retreat. "I was clueless," she admits. "I thought I was opening it as an extension of the Nashville Humane Association and didn't see it as a hands-on thing because I was on the road all the time. I just thought I'd be providing a little extra space. I think there was a misunderstanding because the people from Nashville Humane came out the first week and never came back. I found myself dealing with having the dogs in my back yard and trying to be on the road at the same time."
Emmylou became a fast learner when it came to taking care of the first three dogs she took to Bonaparte's Retreat from Nashville Humane.
"For instance, I didn't think about the dogs having to be housed indoors because it was summer time." Here she pauses for emphasis, then asks, rhetorically, "Do you know that there are dogs who bark at night and wake up the neighborhood? Well, we had one of those dogs and I remember thinking, 'Oh my god I'm going to get shut down.' I wanted to be a good neighbor so we began housing the three dogs in the office where my assistant worked. Fortunately she is a dog lover."
Soon after the experience with the barking dog, Emmylou built her new friends their own home, the Bunkhouse, and that problem was alleviated. Other people came into Emmylou's life who began helping her with the animals. She now has a group of folks who work for her and volunteers who have a schedule which allows them to care for the dogs and ensure they have a happy life while at the Retreat. To date she has helped rescue nearly 200 dogs.
"You learn what you need as you go along," the singer explains. "You really do learn every day with every dog; they are all so unique and different. But if you're patient and you understand where they're coming from, and if you are consistent, they will be fine. They teach you to give your full attention. It is not something you do haphazardly. You're talking about a life and personality. It is the most rewarding thing I've been involved in."
Woofstock is set for Saturday, Aug. 18 for 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Fontanel, the former home of Barbara Mandrell, has a large wooded area with walking trails and plenty of shade, making it an ideal location for the event.
"This is our first one, and what I'm hoping is that people will come and bring their dog if they have one," says Emmylou. "There will be a dog beach and food vendors and other vendors that deal in dog products."
In addition to food vendors and other pet-related organizations, Emmylou will be offering some of her personal clothing for sale. Music City Roots will stream the music portion of the day live. Other entertainers slated to perform include the Whites, Ella Mae Bowen, 12 South, Shawn Camp, Buddy Miller and Mike Farris. Emmylou also notes that her performance will feature mandolin legend Sam Bush.
In addition to the dog beach, which is a set-up providing fun and goodies for animals and their owners, including beach umbrellas, baby pools, Adirondack chairs, and dog towels, an additional playground area will include space for Frisbee, ball toss, and other games.
"When there are dogs and music, people have a good time," Emmylou notes. "They don't have to adopt a dog but there will be dogs on the grounds. All the money goes to rescuing dogs who are in distress in some way, either in danger of being euthanized or they are strays coming into the system. They need homes, they need vet care. As anyone who goes into dog-rescue knows it is not a for-profit business, but the rewards are priceless for me."
Tickets to Woofstock at Fontanel are $20 per person, with children under 12 admitted free. Click here for more information.
Watch Emmylou Talk About Singing in Church