There is no way to sugar coat it, the world isn’t perfect. Not everyone is as kind as they should be, and not everyone is as good as they should be. Reading the papers or watching the news can paint an exaggerated picture of everything that’s wrong with the world. It’s a bit depressing, honestly.
Reading or hearing about heroes among us can be such a relief. Finding out about people who are going against the norm and doing some good for others at their own expense helps us feel like we can do it too.
I’m not talking about men and women in capes shooting laser beams out of their eyes. They are all ordinary people like us. Take this fantastic story, for example:
Martin Agee spent more than thirty years of his life honing his talent and building his career as a professional violinist. His skill has allowed him to perform at amazing venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. It’s nothing to scoff at; he has done well for himself.
What comes as a surprise is what he considers his ideal audience: the dogs housed at ASPCA Animal Recovery Center in New York.
Meet Martin’s audience
Most of the dogs held here have been rescued by the New York Police Department after receiving complaints of animal abuse. Some of them are ill, some of them have physical wounds, and even more, have emotional trauma. When they see humans, their instinct is to be afraid.
The Animal Recovery Center is meant to help them deal with their trauma so they can feel safe enough to live with humans again.
One of the unique ways ASPCA helps these dogs is through a program called the Storytelling Program.
Volunteers will calmly read books, magazines, and other materials to the dogs. It doesn’t matter what content they read. The idea is to expose them to friendliness and human companionship.
The rotating volunteers reading in soft tones helps them socialize and feel comfortable around humans again. It brings them one step closer to being moved to adoption centers where they can find a loving home.
Martin owned a greyhound called Melody. When she passed, it hit him hard. He admits that he struggled for a while. Having lived around animals all his life, he felt volunteering as an adoption coordinator at the New York Shelter would help him heal and deal with the loss of Melody.
This is how he first heard about the ASPCA’s Storytelling Program.
While chatting with some of the staff, he jokingly suggested playing for the animals rather than reading to them. The staff there took it seriously and set up a trial run to see how the dogs would react to music.
It was amazing. The dogs loved it.
They would wag their tails when he walked in, but would all calm down when he started to play. It’s been about two years since that first trial run and he is still playing for them.
Getting more than he gives
In addition to the obvious benefit Martin’s violin has for the dogs in recovery, there is some benefit to Martin too.
Compared to the intense pressure that comes with playing on stage or the cloud of frustration hanging over his head when he practices at home, Martin finds that he enjoys his music the most when he is playing for these dogs.
There are no paralyzing expectations at the recovery center. All he needs is to be free and play the music he enjoys. It’s fulfilling for him.
Sadly, there is a caveat to all of this. Martin grows attached to some of these dogs as he plays for them repeatedly. It can be unsettling to show up only to find that many of them are gone.
He consoles himself by reminding himself that the dog’s departure is a good sign. The program works. The dogs are healing and need to move on to their new lives with new families.
If you would like to see Martin play for the shelter dogs, here’s a video:
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