Almost a year ago I went to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary with my LIFE+DOG publisher. I had the chance to share some toys in both Dog Town and Cat World, which made me very happy especially because it was prior to the holidays. Touring the facilities, having a quiet moment in Angel's Rest, and meeting the dedicated employees left such a positive impression. We even enjoyed lunch with volunteers and staff alike, while listening to various sanctuary success stories. Three months later, one of the founders of Best Friends, Faith Mahoney, joined in my Influence Positively Interview series. Hard to say, but maybe this series of small serendipities might be behind a long time staff member at Best Friends introducing me to the Los Angeles-based musician Mark Alan, and his latest album Little Sun.
Happy Coincidence. Through Grouchy Puppy, I'm dedicated to sharing stories, interviews, cute photos, and generally any content that I believe educates others on the human-animal bond. With my older dog's health issues, I'm sensitive to every moment we have together, and how time is precious with her. Maybe it was a happy coincidence, but reading about Mark Alan's dog Dingo, the close bond between them, and ultimately how it inspired this album resonated with me.
Alphanaut. When you hear the emotion within the lyrics, to me, Little Sun, could've also been called "little son." The clear bond between Mark and Dingo comes through. Every song is a chapter in Dingo's story, some told from Dingo's perspective. Mark says, “These songs are not intellectualized, they are pure emotion – the cycles of life: births, deaths and the joys and heartaches in between.”
Mark Alan considers his music to be a mirror of his personality, “Introspective, passionate and politically-minded.” Animal rights and environmental awareness are among these essential passions. In the midst of moving, and promoting Little Sun, I was fortunate enough to get Mark to pause, and answer some questions about how Dingo influenced his life, and music, and how this little "warm ball of light" gave fearlessly. Read Mark's heartfelt interview, and learn how you can help the National Canine Cancer Foundation:
Was Dingo your ﬁrst dog? Did you have dogs growing up? Dingo was my first. Growing up we always had cats, and all my life I had wanted a dog. Once I bought my home the first thing I did was research the local animal shelters, which is where I found him.
What made you decide to adopt a dog? Would you adopt again? There’s something really incredible about the energy dogs provide and I really wanted to experience that first hand as an owner. I did adopt again actually. Two really incredible dogs named Dubbo and Tooey. They are brother and sister Shepherd mixes, which were also rescued from the pound.
How did Dingo inﬂuence the other musicians he met during his six years with you? Nearly everyone who contributed to the “Little Sun” album had met Dingo. They all knew what a special dog that he was, and I hope it was a rewarding way for everyone to pay tribute to him by performing on the album.
What was his favorite thing to do when he saw you pull out an instrument or heard you sing? Dingo came to the studio with me a few times during the recording of my previous album. He’d often be right at my feet while I composed at home keeping me company.
Did he have his own space to listen in on your music sessions? My studio is in the spare bedroom of my house, which also happens to be the room that all dogs love to hang out in. So he was pretty much always there during my creative moments.
Can you describe an example of Dingo’s Zen-like behavior? Dingo had such a calming energy about him and such a sweet disposition. He just loved everyone he met and became immediate friends with everyone who walked in the door. His laid back attitude was evident the moment we met him at the shelter. He was in the kennel with a few other dogs that were really vocal with one barking directly into Dingo’s ear. He just sat there calmly and looked at us, as if to say “I’m here and ready to go home now”. We knew at that moment he was the one.
How did Dingo let you know he liked your music? He seemed to be interested in pretty much anything I did and was always at my side. Sometimes I’d think the music helped put him to sleep. I think he just liked being bonded together regardless.
Looking back, how did you discover his illness? Well, it was at the vet. Dingo went in for a check up and his shots, when the doctor noticed his lymph nodes felt a little swollen. He let me know that it could be cause for alarm, and when the tests came back they indeed showed signs of cancer. It was really devastating news.
How long after you found out about his cancer before you decided about having him euthanized? We decided to give chemotherapy a shot with Dingo, and after his initial treatments it appeared that his cancer had gone into remission. For several months we thought we were going to be one of the lucky ones who fought the battle and won. But about six months later the cancer returned with a vengeance, and we knew our time was limited. One night Dingo gave us signs that he really went over the edge health wise and the next day we had someone come to the house to end his suffering.
Did you save anything of Dingo's as a memento? Yes, his ashes are still here in the house. There’s a little place on the bookshelf with the urn, a photo of him and his paw print. We also still have his dog collar and tags.
Would you describe this album as part of your grief process? “Little Sun” is a direct reaction to everything I was going through at the time. Many of the songs were started while he was ill, and were finished shortly after he passed away.
Pet Loss Counselors talk about guilt and regret being the two things that can keep someone stuck inside their grief; did you deal with either of those emotions? There was a lot of guilt and regret in the beginning. I think that’s natural. You can’t help but second guess your every decision and wonder if there was some other path you could have taken that would have had a different result. Those feelings soon passed as you make peace with the loss and eventually it becomes clear that you did all you could to help and that you have to let the pain go.
Many of us see ourselves more as guardians rather than dog owners. How would you describe your relationship with Dingo? Guardian is a great word. That would definitely apply to Dingo and other dogs. Really to me it applies to all animals. I feel we are here as stewards to all of them and we should treat them with the utmost of love and respect.
The name of your album is “Little Sun”, could the title also have been “Little Son”? Yes, I struggled with which way to go with the title. The line comes from a song on the album called “All Night Crying” where I use both versions. In the end calling it “Little Sun” Just seemed right. I really liked the imagery it created and also described his personality, which was like a warm ball of light.
Alphanaut is a musical collective, how did the other musicians respond to your lyrics when they ﬁrst heard them? My key players are very good friends, all of whom have been very supportive of my project along the way. When I first presented the demos everyone was really encouraging and seemed genuinely moved by the message behind the words.
How has the public reacted so far to the album and its story? So far it’s been really great. “Little Sun” has been out for a little over a month now and the reaction has been very supportive. I’ve had several people contact me about their experiences of loss and how they find something relatable in the music.
Why did you decide to have some of the lyrics be from Dingo’s perspective? It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just began writing as a way of processing what I was going through, and those songs from Dingo’s perspective was just happened.
Did this experience change the way you view dogs, and your relationship to them? Absolutely. I have become even more of a dog lover in the years after Dingo passed away. Whenever I can, I volunteer my time to assist with animal charities like the ASPCA and the National Canine Cancer Foundation to help however I can to the cause of guaranteeing dogs have happy homes and healthy lives.
Alan created National Canine Cancer Foundation NCCF donation page as a way for people to donate to the Foundation in Dingo's honor. "My hope is that one day no dog, or their owners, will ever have to experience the suffering we went through, and that one day Canine Cancer will be a long forgotten memory." You can donate directly to the NCCF via Dingo's page here.
Alan has also created an online store where you can purchase a variety of Alphanaut items, including totes, mugs, dog tags, and collars. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the NCCF. Check out the store here.
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