Broadway violinist plays classical music for rescue dogs recovering from abuse

5 November 2019, 12:39 | Updated: 25 October 2022, 17:37

Bach for rescue dogs
Bach for rescue dogs. Picture: ASPCA

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

It’s all Bach and no bite for these rescue dogs, who have been enjoying some much-needed musical therapy as they recover from abuse at an animal recovery centre.

It’s been proven time and time again that dogs are calmed by classical music (we even made a special radio show for pets who need a sanctuary from the bangs, lights and loud noises of fireworks season.)

And this Broadway violinist has taken on a wonderful side-project.

When he isn’t playing professionally, violinist Martin Agee volunteers at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), playing Bach for abused and recovering dogs.

When he plays music by Bach, Handel and Mozart, the dogs immediately stop barking and curl up in their beds, ready to enjoy their own private concert.

Read more: What's the most relaxing music for dogs? >

Martin Agee plays Bach for abused dogs
Martin Agee plays Bach for abused dogs. Picture: ASPCA

Agee has played for over 40 Broadway cast albums including Fiddler on the Roof, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Color Purple, Legally Blonde and the upcoming revival of West Side Story.

He was inspired to become an ASPCA volunteer after his own greyhound, which he had adopted through Greyhound Friends of New Jersey, died after 12 years of their time together.

“It was a very difficult loss for me,” he told Insider. “It got to the point for me where I would see people walking their greyhounds and I'd get upset. It was just really hard to see these dogs, and it brought back all of these memories.

“I decided I needed to get back and make a connection with animals again.”

The dogs stop barking to listen to Martin’s music
The dogs stop barking to listen to Martin’s music. Picture: ASPCA

While taking part in a training course at the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center, he came across a program where people read to dogs recovering from abuse.

So, he decided to try the same approach with music – and the dogs loved it.

Read more: Which dog breed matches your personality? >

“I sit down and get my violin out, and there will be chaos and barking going on,” he said.

“But the minute the bow hits the string, just to tune the violin, it’s amazing. I’ll see the expressions on these animals’ faces change. They’ll give a sort of quizzical look and stop barking and running around.”

Agee sits on a stool, to appear less threatening to the dogs
Agee sits on a stool, to appear less threatening to the dogs. Picture: ASPCA

Within the centre, the dogs are kept in separate kennels with a plexiglass door, so they are able to see their surroundings.

When Agee plays for them, he sits on a stool outside the door, to appear less threatening. He also has no direct contact with the dogs, as some are not even well enough to be walked.

“It’s a little hard to look at some of them. They’ve been through varying degrees of abuse and mistreatment, and some of them are recovering from visible injuries.”

The dogs are kept in separate kennels with a plexiglass door
The dogs are kept in separate kennels with a plexiglass door. Picture: ASPCA

Victoria Cussen, director of applied behaviour research on the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Behaviour Team, said live classical music has been shown to reduce stress in shelter dogs.

“There is some evidence to show that classical music promotes calm behaviour in shelter dogs,” she told Insider.

“Playing music to animals provides sensory stimulation and offers a bridge to relaxation, though all animals are individuals with their own preferences. Overall, responses such as lying down and listening quietly in response to classical music performances are consistent with behavioural changes that suggest reduced stress.”

Classical music promotes calm behaviour in shelter dogs
Classical music promotes calm behaviour in shelter dogs. Picture: ASPCA

Although Agee hasn’t worked out if the dogs have any favourite pieces, he says he tends to play music by Handel, Bach and Mozart as the dogs appear to find their music the most soothing.

“Oftentimes, within 30 seconds, a group of four or five dogs will all be curled up on their beds or in front of the doors quietly listening and watching me play,” Agee said.

“It’s really kind of an amazing thing to see.”

Read the full interview on Insider.

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