In April of 2014, I lost Tina, my dog of nine years, to a sudden and rapidly degenerative condition, the cause of which remains a mystery. It was heartbreaking, and I’m still not over it. Shortly after she passed, I pitched a piece to Dogster about her decline and passing, but still haven’t managed to find the strength to write it. I’ve had this other idea for an essay about my five favorite songs about dogs on the ledger for a while, too. Today, it occurred to me to bring the two together.
If there’s anything I love as much as dogs, it has to be music. I’m listening to something pretty much every hour I’m awake. When I’m writing about dogs, I’m listening to ambient, electronic, or classical music. When Tina and I went on our daily walks through the forest, I always had headphones on. Rather than putting together a list of random works about or related to dogs, I thought I’d honor Tina by compiling a list of songs that I associate with her memory.
Annuals was one of the first North Carolina-based bands that I got into when still living in the Chicago area. Brother, the lead track on their first full album, Be He Me (2006), always evokes memories of Tina. It starts with contemplative lines, “Me and my brother hiking / me and my brother might find a turtle / or just have some fun. / Me and my brother playing / with our dog / two mighty men with a wolf / who drinks from the gulf.”
Visiting my family in North Carolina during Thanksgiving of 2007, that exact scenario played out. Walking with my brother and Tina through the woods, my dog stopped on the trail, having unearthed a sun-bleached turtle shell. The song came up on my computer later that evening and was forever seared into my memory.
December 30, 2011: I went to karaoke at the Pinhook, my favorite bar in Durham. I took the stage and performed, in all humility, an outstanding rendition of Patrick Swayze’s eternal hit She’s Like The Wind (1987). When I finished, I crow-hopped off the stage — not trying to do a rock-star leap or anything so extreme — and when I landed, I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. As it turns out, I’d torn my ACL, which required surgery and a year of physical therapy. That night, I managed to get home about an hour later, and something extraordinary happened.
I’d just cracked the door open and started struggling to shuffle my injured leg out of the car when I heard my dog emit this long, plaintive howl. It was a noise I’d never heard her make before, nor ever again. Somehow, Tina sensed that I had suffered a major injury and howled in sympathy. Easily the worst part of surgery and the first couple of months of recovery was not being able to take Tina for her daily walk. Once my knee was fully mobile again, we didn’t miss a day of walking for the rest of her life.
North Carolina’s M.C. Taylor fronts one of my favorite musical projects, Hiss Golden Messenger. Drummer Down, a track from 2012’s Poor Moon, is, to me, a song about seeking stability in a world fraught with impermanence. We’ve all had bad days and tough times, and we’ve all come home to have a dog greet us with boundless joy. This song mirrors that experience for me. As it reaches its conclusion, the music fades to the sound of a dog barking in the distance.
Taylor tells me it was drummer Terry Lonergan’s dog, Millie, who wandered in during a taped rehearsal. “I had to ride / such a long, long time / and here I am another drummer down,” Taylor sings, and the last aching chorus gives way to that welcoming, even redemptive, dog barking. As time passes, the song and the sound bring Tina’s face right back to me. It’s become a great comfort.
Tina was born and lived her entire life in North Carolina, so it’s no surprise that there are a number of local artists linked with my memories of her. Mount Moriah is another North Carolina group, and another favorite of mine. Heather McEntire, Mount Moriah’s lead singer and songwriter, is a great dog lover herself. Fitting then that you may recognize the piano-driven intro of The Letting Go from its inclusion in this Subaru commercial.
Within the span of 30 seconds, you see this guy go through a full lifetime of adventures with his dog. I can’t watch this advertisement these days without bursting into tears. It was the last song Tina and I listened to together on our trip to the veterinarian’s office on April 1, 2014, the day she was put to sleep. Here it is in full:
I’d known and loved the song since the first time I heard it in 2010. It is only since Tina passed, however, that the song, the commercial, and the memories became inextricably linked in my mind.
Just after I had Tina euthanized, I placed her body in the back of my car. I was taking her back home to bury her. The only thing I love as much as dogs and music is the British science-fantasy show Doctor Who. Murray Gold‘s instrumental piece, Madame de Pompadour, from one my favorite episodes, Series 2’s “The Girl in the Fireplace,” was the first song to play when i turned the car on.
This music plays over the episode’s last scene. The Doctor returns to 18th-century France to take Madame de Pompadour on a promised adventure, only to find that, in his absence, she has passed away. I recognized the theme, set the song to repeat, and just wept all the way home. I couldn’t listen to it again until today, when it again prompted the tears to flow immediately.
It seems entirely likely that as long as humans have shared their lives with dogs, they’ve written songs about or involving their beloved canine companions. Then there are those songs that through experience become forever associated with our dogs. These are the five songs that remind me most of Tina. What songs remind you of your dogs?
Read more about remembering dogs on Dogster:
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.