When Johann Bach composed his famous Cello Suites in the 18th century, he probably never anticipated that one day, thanks to the musical ability and caring heart of Cheryl Wallace, some of his most attentive fans would be dogs.
As Wallace takes the stage—a simple chair in the center of the kennel—at the Town and Country Humane Society in Papillion, the barking swells to its crescendo. The arrival of a new person, after all, is cause for celebration. But after only a few rich notes of her cello, the barking begins to taper off. The dogs, ears perked up, watching this curious stranger intently. One by one their restless pacing gives way to deep sighs and an obvious contentment, followed soon by drooping eyes and, finally, even a nap or two. While Wallace plays, the dogs doze, with an occasionally twitching paw or ear as their only worries. Some, forgoing sleep, take on an expression of profound contemplation.
Wallace puts on concerts for these unlikely audiences at several dog shelters around Nebraska and Iowa. According to the cellist, the dogs seem to respond best to musical pieces “low and slow, like Italian cooking.” Research done by the Scottish SPCA in conjunction with the University of Glasgow corroborates this: “The results…demonstrate that potentially beneficial physiological and, in particular, behavioural changes occur in response to musical auditory enrichment in kenneled dogs.” Papillion Animal Hospital owner and veterinarian, Dr. Mike Rukstalis, agrees.
“There are some studies that have shown that playing music—and specifically classical music—can actually calm down animals and lower that stress response to an environment like a shelter or a rescue. Any kind of relief in a shelter environment can go a long way.”
Judging from audience’s response, Wallace’s performances are a big hit.
“Now, if you were playing in a concert hall and your audience went to sleep you might be insulted,” Wallace says, “but for me that is a high compliment.”
And she’s not alone in her work. Natalie Helm, cellist for the Sarasota Symphony, also plays for pups at the Florida Humane Society of Sarasota County. “I know it’s very cliché,” Helms says, “but music is a language that everyone appreciates and understands.” Wallace’s website, cello4dogs.com, is a great way to learn more about her work. It also showcases some of her biggest fans.
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I was dropping off my dogs for boarding today and this lovely woman was playing the most beautiful music for the dogs. It was perhaps the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a long time. It made me feel so much easier about leaving our dogs. There are some really amazing people in this world. #soothingourhearts #doglover #papillion #cello #sweetmusic
“Fellow cellists,” Wallace writes on the website, “tune up, rosin up, and contact your local shelter! Nearly 3.3 million dogs enter shelters in the US every year. They give us so much as faithful companions and service dogs. This is an opportunity to give something to them.” Armed with a cello, and a lot of love, Wallace is doing her part in the fight against the enemy of so many unadopted dogs—the infinite silence of loneliness.