Cheryl Wallace considers herself a beginner when it comes to playing the cello, but she’s hitting all the right notes with the dogs at Town and Country Humane Society.
Wallace has made several appearances at Town and Country since last fall, using her cello as a calming instrument for both the dogs that are available to be adopted and those that are just there for a temporary stay as boarders.
“I wanted to do something for dogs and this was a way to comfort more than one dog at a time,” Wallace said. “I’m not real skilled, but I wanted to help and this is something I can do.”
Wallace, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, had read that dogs would respond positively to instruments that were played low and slow. She got the opportunity to test that theory when she played the cello for a friend and her dogs.
“My friend had a dog that would run away and hide because he was terrified of other people,” Wallace said. “When I played, he came out of hiding. He just looked at me and put his head down and wanted to sleep.”
The first shelter she played for was a group in DeSoto, Iowa that had rescued several dogs that had been dumped in a wooded area.
“They had all these dogs they called forest dogs,” she said. “I played for them and had no idea what to expect. But when I played, they were able to actually put their hands on dogs who didn’t like to be touched.
“It’s like a massage for them. They like very low and slow notes. That’s what’s calming for them.”
Wallace began to reach out to other shelters to share her music, but she was getting no feedback until Town and Country liked the sound of her idea.
“Joni Cisney, who operates Homeward Bownd Rescue in Iowa, suggested I try Town and Country,” Wallace said. “They reached out to me right away.”
Town and Country Humane Society Director Craig DenHerder said he was more than willing to have Wallace test her musical skills on the dogs.
“We’re always open to new ideas and I had actually done research on this and found out that dogs responded to these low tones,” DenHerder said. “I could see the impact she made right away. We’re open to having more people come in and play for the animals.”
“We’re always receptive to any kind of volunteer help because we’re 100 percent based on volunteers. She’s a great person and we enjoy having her around.”
Wallace played the violin when she was young and thought the transition to a cello would be a natural progression. She quickly found out otherwise.
“I thought it would be easy, but it was a very difficult challenge,” she said. “The first time I played for dogs, I was very nervous. But now when I play, I tend to look at the dogs more. I get a different reaction each time. The first time I played for them here, they started to get real quiet.
“You see the results and see them curl up and actually go to sleep. I think it creates a calmer environment for everyone and it makes the dogs more adoptable.”
Along with encouraging more people to “pick up their cello and play for the dogs,” Wallace is also active on getting the word out on the Rescue Animal MP3 Project, a program developed by a veterinarian in Ohio.
“It’s a program where artists can donate music,” Wallace said. “The MP3 is placed in shelters and is programmed to come at certain times. It’s free to any shelter with a 501c.”
Through her job, Wallace makes occasional trips to the Omaha area and when she is in town, she will make a stop at Town and Country to share her love of music and dogs.
“It makes me sad that there are so many dogs out there that need homes and I need to something, so I try to do what I can, when I can,” she said. “I encourage anyone out there looking for a dog to adopt, don’t shop.”
To learn more about Wallace and her music, visit Cello4dogs.com.