Art director-musician Shin Wong was sad and furious after her sick puppy's death in 2008. She felt even worse when her veterinarian told her there are many inexperienced dog owners in Hong Kong who abandon their sick pets in the streets because of expensive medical fees or that they can't be bothered to care for them.
Wong's angst and grief triggered her album for dogs, aptly titled The Dog's Songbook, which was released in June last year. 'I had the urge to sing and to express my anger on the issue of animal abuse and homeless dogs,' says Wong, the art director of Madhouse Contemporary. 'There isn't much I can do as an individual, yet I felt there must be something I can do to help these poor, voiceless animals.'
In 2009, Wong started the 'Woof' project, which she describes as 'very meaningful'. In addition to The Dog's Songbook, she also looked after a charity photography exhibition, which ran between April and May last year at Madhouse Contemporary, to raise money for Companion Animal Federation. She invited four leading artists - Dan Pak, Wang Qing-song, Wing Shya and Young Kim - to participate in the exhibition and heighten awareness of abused and homeless dogs with their work.
The lyrics of all five songs on The Dog's Songbook are from the dog's perspective. The songs zero in on five different aspects - love, care, trust, loyalty and negligence. Wong admits that putting herself in a dog's shoes wasn't as easy as it seemed. 'I could only use my imagination and observe the habits of my dog Buzz,' she says.
Besides dog lovers, their fluffy companions are also among the target listeners of the album. 'We transformed the barking and other weird noises of dogs into beats and loops. You can hear Buzz very clearly in the intro of the song Paparazzi,' Wong says.
The album explores the intimate relationship between dogs and humans. The song Wong Wong was inspired by the experience Wong had taking Buzz to the supermarket one afternoon. 'He loves sitting in the trolley, sniffing around, and looking at the food and shoppers,' Wong says. 'He loves it even more when we go home and unpack the groceries together. The song reflects the loyalty he has for me and I rounded up the song with a very clich?d statement, 'dogs are man's best friend', which is true.'
The ballads, such as Tears of Happiness, talk about scenarios such as when couples fight and forget how scared the poor animals can get. 'Some couples might even abandon their pets after they break up,' Wong says. 'We neglect these voiceless creatures' feelings and can be so selfish without even realising it.'
The song Akita, which uses Wong's hometown as the backdrop, describes an Akita dog finding his way home. 'I moved from New Zealand to Hong Kong seven years ago and remember how homesick I was. I felt like a lost puppy in a big city. I was optimistic that I could achieve something in this big city and eventually found my way home.'
Wong hopes to heighten the public's awareness of abused and homeless animals with The Dog's Songbook. 'Please kindly consider adopting a pet before you buy one,' she says.
Sunrise Music, an independent record company, also directs people's attention to the need to treat animals right with its third album for pets, Harp for Pets (2010). For each copy of the album sold, HK$5 will be donated to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The two-CD album features classics such as I Dreamed a Dream, Summertime and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
'After doing a lot of research, we concluded that pets like listening to the harp the most because the musical instrument's frequency is the most similar to the human voice,' says Connie Cheung, executive director of Sunrise Music. 'There are dog owners who called to say their pets are more relaxed than before thanks to the album. They said they have also calmed down because they listen to the album with their pets.'
The indie music label doesn't make albums for pets for commercial reasons, Cheung says. 'As long as the pets and their owners are happy, we're happy.' When asked how Sunrise Music's albums for pets came about, Cheung says: 'I am a cat person. When I play the piano my cat loves to be in my vicinity. So I came up with the idea of doing a piano album for cats. My cat calms down when he hears the album Piano for Cat (2007). We didn't promote the album yet it sold out in two months.'
Still, many pet shops refuse to sell or play them. 'Hong Kong pet owners in general prefer pet products that can be consumed such as dog food. Satisfying their pets' psychological needs often takes a back seat,' Cheung says.
'I hope our albums can help owners to spend more time with their pets.'