Shelter symphony

Musician plays for dogs

-Messenger photo by Michaela Frerichs
Cheryl Wallace plays her cello for dogs currently staying at Almost Home in Fort Dodge.

About three years ago, Cheryl Wallace was looking for a way to help shelter dogs and she wanted to do something that would benefit many animals at once, so she came up with the idea to play her cello at animal shelters.

She traveled from her home in Des Moines on Wednesday to play her 246th concert for shelter dogs at Almost Home Humane Society of North Central Iowa in Fort Dodge.

In the beginning of this journey, Wallace started contacting shelters, but they weren’t interested. “Some didn’t listen and didn’t want me there and one of the places I called even laughed at me,” she said.

Wallace said they didn’t understand why she wanted to play for their dogs.

“A kind friend of mine let me come play for her dogs and so I did,” Wallace said. “Two of her dogs came in while I was playing and laid near me and went to sleep, one was a little dog that quivered but he stopped shaking.”

Wallace said the most amazing thing was when her friend’s “secret dog” appeared.

“She has a dog and I never saw him. He was very timid and always hiding. While I was playing, he came out of his hiding place in the bedroom and sat on the couch and just looked at me. We were stunned,” Wallace said.

Wallace said even after she left, her friend’s dog seemed to become less timid.

“After that experience, I thought ‘I know this works’ so I continued to try to find places where I could play,” she said.

A friend suggested the Town and Country Humane Society in Papillion, Nebraska..

“I filled out a volunteer application late one night online and there’s a little box where you can write down anything you can do that’s special and I put that I wanted to play the cello for their dogs,” Wallace said. “The next morning they told me to come on in. That’s where it all started.”

Wallace plays two or three times a week wherever she can.

“I’ve played in 12 states from Minnesota to Mississippi and from Kentucky to Oklahoma,” she said.

Wallace said she’s seen some amazing results when playing music for the dogs.

“They’re calmed by listening to certain types of music and they stay calm for a period of time afterward. They eat better, they rest better, and that can make them more likely to be adopted,” she said.

Wallace said she once played at a shelter where one of their dogs named Big Boy was not doing well.

“He was starting to shut down. They get so stressed and depressed that they stop responding to people and it makes it really hard for them to find them a home,” she said. “When I played, Big Boy stood up and wagged his tail and started walking around and he actually got adopted a month or two after that. Hearing music somehow touched something inside him to help him emerge as the dog he is.”

Wallace has made recordings of some of her music and sent her own CDs and a variety of other music to shelters.

“One shelter has started playing music for their dogs everyday and they said the dogs are quieter and calmer in general,” said Wallace.

Almost Home Shelter Manager Rachel Buchanan said they first hosted Wallace about a year ago.

“We weren’t sure what to expect but we had heard about music calming animals so we set up a time for her to come,” she said. “It’s amazing, the longer she plays the quieter it gets and it’s enjoyable for our dogs.”

Buchanan said it’s nice for the dogs to get a break because it’s usually very loud in the kennels. “Last time she came, they were calm for the rest of the day. It was just a quieter afternoon even after she left,” she said.

Wallace said her biggest hope is that other people start playing for shelter animals also.

“It’s not hard to do. I’m not highly skilled and I don’t play from music, I just play by ear,” she said. “I always try to be low and slow. I try to play at a tempo around the dogs’ heart rate which is about 100 beats per minute. No syncopation, no sudden crescendo or decrescendo.”

Wallace said if anyone would like advice on getting started or what to play, they can contact her through her website: cello4dogs.com and she would be happy to help.


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