Lessons my dog taught me
“He just wants a friendly hand. … I want to be grateful for what is mine … “
– Muscadine by Amy Ray
For her new song, Muscadine, Amy Ray – half of the acclaimed folk duo Indigo Girls – followed the adage, “Write about what you know.” In this case, she knew it was a mixed breed rescue dog named Sawyer.
“I wrote this song after one of my oldest dogs passed away,” says Ray of her new ballad with a rural flair. “Regardless of whether he has lived deaf and blind in recent years, he was always ready to go on adventures with me in the forest. He might run into a few trees along the way or fall into a small ditch, but he always got up and kept going.
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“I started the music with a riff on the acoustic guitar, inspired by Brent Cobb records and the idea of simple parts that together captured a certain pain that I felt,” says Ray of the track. “In the end it is about learning to love and receive love in the purest possible way – and not to be picky about life, but to stay the course with curiosity and gratitude.”
Ray lives in rural Georgia with five rescue dogs. Four of them appear in the video of the new song, which was recorded in beautiful black and white tones. Directed by Luke Pilgrim and Brad Kennedy, the video shows Ray and her pack strolling through the Georgia woods while the song plays. The title is available now for streaming or download.
We recently spoke to Amy Ray about her dogs and the new song …
The bark: First things first: tell us about your dogs.
Amy Ray: They are all rescue workers; I never buy. When I was growing up my family had a Puli, a Hungarian Shepherd Dog, and we continued this breed for a while. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I got the wake up call after going to a shelter to adopt a cat and realizing how many dogs they euthanized. And I thought, okay, I’ll never buy a purebred dog again or allow my dogs to have puppies – there are just too many good dogs in shelters to ever do that again. I became a very committed spay neuter adopting person.
There are just so many animals that need a home. It’s endless where I live; It’s a rural area and you are just about everywhere. So I started collecting dogs. I take care of dogs. I find houses for dogs. I’m kind of an activist. I currently have five.
The bark: We understand this new song was inspired by one of your dogs – is that right?
Amy Ray: That would be Sawyer. He was so unconditionally loving. He came from the streets of Atlanta and had a difficult start in life. When he came to us he was sick and weighed about 30 pounds. He wouldn’t even look at me, he was so neglected and abused. Still, he was so sweet and docile. A very loyal dog.
Over time I became socialized and although he eventually went blind and deaf, he just kept going and followed me everywhere with the other dogs. The dogs got a little restless with him at times, but he just kept going.
When he died, I thought about how dogs have this unconditional approach to life. They take what they get and make the most of it. That has always inspired me. I’ve learned a lot from every dog in my life – lessons of loyalty and acceptance of your life. Dogs can do this – three-legged dogs, dogs that cannot hear or see, dogs with illnesses or whatever – take life as it comes and make the most of it, are gracious to what you have and only have one Good attitude. That was my attitude and the inspiration for the song.
The bark: Have your dogs been any comfort in these pandemics?
Amy Ray: Oh yes of course. I get a lot of comfort and friendship from them. The dogs really help with anxiety, depression and loneliness. I go hiking with them every day and it’s great.
The bark: Her legacy with the Indigo Girls is not only musical but also political. I think your fans admire your political advocacy almost as much as they admire the songs and concerts. Voting rights, LGBT equality, environmental justice, animal welfare – the list of reasons you support is long. What do you particularly like about animal welfare issues?
Amy Ray: It’s funny. Some people don’t get it; You wonder why I spend so much time on animal rescue. It’s also part of the public health community, a reflection of how healthy your community is … how you treat animals and whether you treat them humanely.
We are such a well endowed country. Even so, there are people who get into tough times and cannot afford to keep their pets. It’s important to be able to support people in need with pet food pantries and affordable veterinary care.
I know that some people think, “Don’t put animals in front of people,” but that’s not so – it’s a network, a matter of mutual care and all of the needs of the community. The animals, the dogs and cats, are all important to our lives and shouldn’t be overlooked.