According to the Humane Society of the United States, four million cats and dogs are put down in U.S. shelters every year. That’s one dog or cat every eight seconds. With statistics like these, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and bury one’s head in the sand. However, 12-time Grammy Award-winning singer Emmylou Harris and San Francisco dog savior Pali Boucher are two women who have instead chosen to bury their faces in the fur of their dogs.
Both Harris and Boucher have devoted much of their lives to rescuing dogs from shelters. Though they started their efforts in separate states, a mutual passion for animal welfare work and good music brought them together in the end.
In 2001, Boucher and ten of her closest friends founded Rocket Dog Rescue in San Francisco, a nonprofit that saves dogs from death row at high-kill shelters across California. Rocket Dog Rescue has saved more than 6,000 animals to date. In 2004, Harris started her own dog rescue organization called Bonaparte’s Retreat in the backyard of her home in Nashville, TN. Upon hearing about Bonaparte’s Retreat, Boucher immediately wrote to Harris expressing admiration for the country icon’s efforts.
“She adds beauty to this world with her music, and reaches out to help animals that need it the most,” says Boucher. In May 2007, the two dog rescuers finally met face-to-face when Harris sent Boucher tickets to an upcoming concert complete with a back stage pass.
“We talked about dog rescue and really hit it off,” says Boucher. “We met after her shows many more times, and also at animal rescue conferences.” When Boucher recently asked Harris to put on a benefit show for the dogs in the Bay Area, the country-singer-turned-animal-activist agreed without hesitation.
On Tuesday, July 3, Harris will hold a very special performance at Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California. A fan of big parties and “doggone good beer,” the brewing company has generously agreed to underwrite the entire event, so all revenue will benefit Rocket Dog Rescue and Bonaparte’s Retreat. From hosting various Rocket Dog Rescue adoption events over the years to encouraging employees to bring their pets to work, Lagunitas Brewing Co. is certainly a friend of the cause. The company even sports a pup on its logo and makes its own line of dog treats.
Guests can purchase general admission tickets to the concert for $75 or go all-out with $150 VIP passes that include upfront chair seating, a pre-show dinner, and a free concert poster. The party starts early with a free Festival for the Dogs from noon to 4pm, featuring art, food, beer, and live music by crowd-pleasing artists Sioux City Kid and Mississippi Mike Wolf.
Boucher speaks openly and without any hint of self-congratulation about her own journey through recovery and how she built Rocket Dog Rescue from the ground up. She is quick to redirect any praise she receives to those who helped her along the way, including her trusty Rocket Dog volunteers. “Nothing means more to me than helping and saving animals,” says Boucher. “But I couldn’t succeed without my volunteers – their dedication and compassion are incredible.”
In addition to pulling dogs from shelters right before their time is up, Boucher and her team rescue dogs in danger of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. A few rocket dogs live with Boucher at her Bernal Heights residence, and the rest are placed into caring foster homes. Every single dog is spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and treated for any medical conditions that might hinder adoptability.
Like Boucher, Harris keeps close tabs on all of her rescues and relies on the tremendous help of fellow dog-lovers and volunteers. “We adopted out 34 dogs last year, and we’re confident that every year we’ll save more than we did the year before,” says Kate Derr, who currently runs Bonaparte’s Retreat full-time while Harris travels and tours. Derr supervises, feeds, and socializes the dogs, while also coordinating volunteer efforts and interviewing adopters. She credits Boucher as a key source of inspiration.
“It’s amazing what Pali has done,” says Derr. “She should give lessons, have seminars, and teach us all how to do rescue better!”
Want to support Rocket Dog Rescue and Bonaparte’s Retreat while enjoying some great music and beer? Tickets to the July 2 event at Lagunitas are available at store.lagunitas.com/Event-Tickets_c_16.html. Be sure to arrive early and enjoy the Festival for the Dogs before the concert.
“Mark your calendars,” says Boucher. “It’s going to be amazing.”
Catharine Lloyd is a freelance writer in San Francisco. She also volunteers with local animal welfare groups, including Rocket Dog Rescue, and is the proud guardian of her own rescue dog and loyal sidekick, Stella. You may contact Catharine at firstname.lastname@example.org.