Veronica Elsea's 'We Woof You A Merry Christmas' features her guide dogs barking carols. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
The Guide Dog Glee Club has seven members—Ellie, Reina, L’Orange, Hardy, Hugh, Admiral and Omalia—and they’re the only performers on We Woof You a Merry Christmas, produced by Santa Cruz’s Veronica Elsea.
Elsea, who was born blind, has only made one Christmas album. And last year, she was surprised to hear a video of confused BBC newscasters listening to her album and trying to figure out which song was playing.
“I was just howling,” says Elsea. “It was hilarious. You know you’ve made it when you’ve been made fun of.”
Elsea began recording her guide dogs’ voices a few years ago, and compiling them into songs without special effects or Auto-Tune.
“All I can do is what the dogs gave me,” Elsea says.
Six of the group’s pooches have died since laying down their tracks, with the lone exception being Admiral, who belongs to her sister, who is also blind. Elsea’s husband Peter, an electronic music lecturer at UC-Santa Cruz, designed the program she uses to mix her recordings. Her keyboard is filled with howls, barks, yelps and friendly growls, and as she touches the keys one by one, she knows which old friend she’s hearing immediately.
“That’s Hugh. That’s Hugh. That’s Hardy,” Elsea says. “That’s Hugh.”
The Dog Glee Club has become quite the underground sensation—and not just because most of them are no longer walking this earth. Although Elsea doesn’t have the capital needed to put We Woof You a Merry Christmas into corporate pet stores like PetSmart, sales have been steady. Her CDs can be found at Streetlight Records, Scotts Valley Feed, Valley Feed in Watsonville and Tom’s Pharmacy—in addition to iTunes, Amazon and Elsea’s website, laurelcreekmusic.com.
Elsea, who has a master’s degree in musical composition, doesn’t stop with Christmas music. When Elsea starting taking her current guide dog, Tai, to physical therapy—rehab to us humans—she decided to make a recording of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” And listening to her dogs yelp “no, no, no!” is strangely not that different from hearing Winehouse howl it.
Elsea says there are important distinctions between her work and the Jingle Dogs, who have released better-known albums of their own. First, her Glee Club doesn’t have a jazz band backing it up. Second, she has a different kind of relationship with her dogs. L’Orange, for example, once stopped her from walking into a live telephone wire that was dangling six feet off the ground.
“These dogs have saved my life,” Elsea says. “They’ve gotten me places I couldn’t have gone otherwise. There’s a lot of respect that goes into it.”