(No animals were harmed in the making of this interview recording but some did talk, and quite fluently.)
Mandisa, what inspired you to get a puppy?
The story begins with Mandisa dropping off a birthday present for her friend, Sydni, who used to dance with Mandisa on the road. Sydni’s parents’ dogs had just given birth to a litter of puppies and this is where the journey of Kiya begins…
Mandisa: “When Sydni’s mom lifted Kiya in the air, Kiya lifted her hands [a.k.a. puppy paws]. I’m like she’s a worshiper and she’s the only black one! I was like ‘that’s me! A black girl with a whole bunch of white people and raising her hands and worshiping!’ I have to have her.’”
Kiya: “I just knew that God was going to bring the perfect human mom my way. What’s fun is when Mandisa walked in to see me, I knew Mandisa was an amazing Christian Music singer and I wanted her to pick me so badly! So when Mandisa picked me up for the first time I thought I should show her ‘see! I can praise and worship too, with the best of them! Pick me!”
Where does the name Kiya come from?
Kiya: “Names are really funny things, Sara, and very special things. I’ve noticed that the best creatures get an extra name. What I mean is that God chose names for all the creatures. Animals two by two went on Noah’s ark. Two birds, two giraffes, two Havanese dogs, two penguins, two rhinoceros (can you imagine one rhinoceros on a boat? Let alone, two?), etc… Now, humans get to choose to add a name extension to their God-given title if the creature is worthy enough. For example, only the special birds get an extra name like Penelope, the Parakeet bird. Now, that might be a deep thought coming from a 5 month old dog, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, how special it is that I am one of those special dogs that gets a unique name just for me.”
Mandisa: “Sydni’s sister, Destiny, named all the dogs. And when I heard it, I had the thought, ‘I actually really love that name.’ So I just stuck with it! I added the Renee, which only happens when she’s in trouble. One day she pooped on the floor or something and I just yelled, ‘Kiya Renee!’ Also, one day when I was looking up what the name Kiya means, I think one of them was ‘sent from God.’” Mandisa looked up the name Kiya while we were sitting there. Jovial lady is one of the meanings, ‘Gift given by God.’
What is Kiya’s favorite color?
Mandisa: “PINK! Hello?!”
I realized, oh my goodness, I don’t even know why I asked that question. When I walked into Mandisa’s house, she was wearing the same Kate Spade pink sparkle shoes that I own. Mandisa’s entire house had pink sparkles (she even owns pink Titans Football merch) and she loved my pink bedazzled Canon camera. Kiya was wearing a tiny blinged out pink jean jacket and a rainbow tutu, and immediately I knew we were going to be great friends after this interview! Chance Scoggins, who connected Mandisa and me, was right when he said, “You two are really going to hit it off.”
Kiya, what was it like going to your new mom Mandisa’s house on that first day?
Kiya: “I was a little shaky at first because it was a new experience for me. Then I simply felt the peace come over me when Mandisa let me snuggle with her in bed and I fell asleep. Even though my mom is very high energy, there’s something really calming about Mandisa’s home.
Mandisa: “I think she [Kiya] would say,‘Step out of the boat, just like Peter did. It can be really scary but you can walk on water.’ [in reference to being brave that first day away from her puppy siblings and doggy parents].”
Mandisa, what are a few characteristics you feel like you and Kiya share?
Mandisa: “Kiya is very good at telling me when she’s not happy. If I want some love and I’m trying to hold her, she just is not going to have it. If she’s not having it, she makes it very clear. And I’m the same way. If I don’t like something, I don’t just hold my tongue. Also, she doesn’t like peanut butter, which is strange because I also don’t like peanut butter! I tried to give her a pill with peanut butter but I knew she wasn’t going to like it because she’s just like me!” [Okay, that’s huge. I don’t know a dog that doesn’t love peanut butter.]
Kiya, what’s your favorite Bible verse?
Kiya: “Isaiah 43:19 in the Passion Translation: ‘I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it?’ Because every morning I get to wake up and do a new thing!”
How did you find the Nashville dog trainer, The Pawsitive Professor Lisa Ann?
Mandisa: “Well, I knew nothing about dogs. Nothing. When I was looking [online] for dog trainers, mind you this is in the middle of a pandemic, I saw her name and a couple of others and I looked at her picture and I thought, ‘This is the one!’ I called her ad I was talking to her for a little bit and she asked, ‘I’m sorry may I ask your name?’ and when I said Mandisa she said, ‘I knew it was you! I follow you on Instagram and I reached out to Patsy Clairmont and told her ‘I know you know Mandisa, if she needs help with her dog I would love to help her.’ So the fact that I didn’t hear that but I just picked her from a list of trainers on Yelp, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re it!’”
God led you to Kiya. How do you think this was intentionally hope for overcoming your journey with depression?
Mandisa: “I faced a really bad depression in 2014 for about 2 and a half years. And it exacerbated it because I am by myself. I’m 43 years old, super duper single, never been married and I was living in Antioch which was far. All of my friends in my community live out here [in Franklin], so I really didn’t talk to anybody for 2 and a half years. They would call me, and some would come to my door, and so when I moved to Franklin this last year, part of why I did it was because I knew I needed community, I knew I needed people to my house if I went radio silent, and they have.
One of the reasons I got her [Kiya] was because I think a lot of people would describe me as strong or outspoken, and so I think that God is preparing me for marriage and trying to cultivate softer sides of me. And so that’s one reason I got her. And the other reason is moments where I want to stay in my bed and have my blackout curtains drawn and just order Cheesecake Factory, I know that I can’t. I have to get up and take care of her [Kiya] and she just brings me so much joy and she just lights up.”
What was the turning point for you in your intense season of depression?
Mandisa: “In 2016, my community accosted me in a movie theatre parking lot and they had an intervention with me and said, ‘You can’t do this anymore. It’s been two and a half years. We love you, this is not shame, but you cannot stay here.’ And that’s when I started dealing with the issues that I hadn’t been dealing with. It was a step-by-step process, but that is why I think I know the power of community, because had they not done that, I don’t know that I would still be here.”
Kiya: “This is where I come in, Sara. There is such a thing as a dog’s purpose, and mine is to be the protector of Mandisa’s heart. I am an eight pound warrior of the sadness battle that can happen. I am not only super cute, I am also gifted with an internal alarm sensor that I call ‘the Kiya Care Alert’ button and it goes off when Mandisa’s heart needs a jump start of love and caring.”
Tell me about your new song “You Keep Hope Alive”.
Mandisa: “My new song ‘You Keep Hope Alive’ was a song my friend Jon Reddick wrote. He’s a worship Pastor at Church of the City. He actually wrote that song because of the Charlottesville events where there was a riot. I just recorded a version of that with him, but we [also] recorded a version of the song called ‘You Keep Hope Alive: The Unity International Version’ because I just think that this global pandemic has really opened my eyes to a lot of things. One is the church is not just four walls and we have not been able to meet in four walls and yet I’ve seen the church rise up in new ways. It’s in community, it’s in relationships, it’s online, it’s watching on our computers. It’s really more about who we are and I think there’s something powerful about that song being sung in all these different languages that speaks to unity.”
Kiya: “The neatest thing about me is that I don’t hear humans in what language they speak. I don’t see people in what race they are. I see straight through people into their hearts. I am a very spiritual pup, and I see the unity in people coming together and being peaceful. Those are the people I like. Those are the people who are worthy of my cuddles and Kiya kisses. I really think that Mandisa’s song ‘You Keep Hope Alive’ exudes goodness and that is exactly why you all should listen and go give Mandisa and Jon Reddick a bark-out for their amazing song.”
Mandisa: “The song [‘You Keep Hope Alive’] came out at the end of May, but this EP is going to have the Unity International Version. We did an acoustic version and we did a version of the song that I’m calling the ‘Soaking Version.’ It’s like 15 minutes long. I sang it with Jon Reddick and we went into other songs and it’s just designed to help people be in the presence of God. A lot of my songs are entertainment like ‘Overcomer’ and ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Stronger,’ and this song version [‘You Keep Hope Alive – Soaking Version’] feels more serine. Again, God is doing a new thing!”
THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART of our entire interview. This is why I love dogs. This is why I want to give dogs a voice with my dog-story-telling series Celebrity Dogs And Their People.
Mandisa: “Kiya has already made so many friends. Chinese and Indian, and Black and White, and there’s something about dogs that it brings down walls in people. I realized, ‘Wow, dogs are a unitor as well.’ We did a food drive at my church and my pastor’s dog, Milo, who is Kiya’s [doggy] boyfriend, they had him out there and were taking Milo to meet the people. I had been going car to car praying with people, but when Milo came out, people who had their windows up brought them down. It’s really interesting how dogs can bring people together.
I have a shirt that says something about diversity and it’s all different dogs. It’s true. There’s just something that unites people that only happens with dogs. You know that DOG spelled backwards is GOD so maybe God is revealing a little something.”
After Mandisa said this, I said, “Hey! I know that! And I figured that out on my own with my dog @sunshinethegoldenpup one day! Dogs are such a blessing.”
How has being quarantined affected you, Mandisa?
Mandisa: “For me, this [season] has been really eye-opening as a single woman because I battle with loneliness and when you cannot be with people it really highlights it. So I’ve really been really leaning into Jesus as my husband. There’s a passage in Isaiah 54 that says, ‘For your maker is your husband, the Lord almighty is His name.’ So, I’ve spent a lot of time outside with Kiya and with Jesus and I’ve just spent a lot of time talking to Him. I feel an intimacy now with Him more than I did before this pandemic happened because I’ve not been able to go to my church. But, I feel like I’ve fallen more in love with Jesus in this season, so I feel like that’s probably my biggest take away.”
Kiya: “I know that there have been so many earthly experiences that Mandisa has missed because of being quarantined with me and God. And yet, that life is all I’ve ever known. A life of simplicity, a life of sunset-porch-sitting, TV praise, worshiping and Bible studying. Sara, do you think I could start a Bible study for dogs? Not sure how to get the word out.”
Kiya, listening to Mandisa’s music, does it make you want to sing?
Kiya: “Actually, I have wanted to talk to Danny Gokey about this. I know that Danny Gokey and Mandisa have sung a lot together and toured together. I think that his dog, Sweet Pea, and I would make an amazing duet together. I read your Celebrity Dogs And Their People interview with Danny Gokey and his family, and I really think that Sweet Pea and I are actually two ‘peas’ in a vocal-duo-pod.”
Mandisa: “I think because we [Danny Gokey and Mandisa] sing well together, that maybe my dog and his dog would make beautiful music together too.”
Before Chance Scoggins, my incredible business coach, introduced me to Mandisa for this interview with Kiya, I had just come across Mandisa’s meditation on the Abide App and I was so excited to tell her about that in person. The Abide App, a Christian Meditation App, has been so helpful to me during this season.
Mandisa: “We are doing ‘Word Warriors’ where we are memorizing a new scripture every month so I think that month that you are talking about [listening to the Abide App] is where we were talking about being adopted by God.”
Kiya: “Is there a dog section on the Abide App? I heard there was one like a prayer for a pup or something.”
Mandisa, if you could have one dream come true, what would it be?
Mandisa: “To sing ‘God Bless America’ at the Super Bowl.”