A lifetime animal lover, the death of Martin Agee’s ex-racing greyhound, Melody, whom he had adopted as a family pet, was devastating for the 62-year-old New Yorker. Hoping to heal from the loss, Martin sought out other dogs in need and began volunteering at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York City.
Initially volunteering as an adoption counselor for the ASPCA in 2017, Martin realized that his skillset as a professional musician could also benefit abused or traumatized dogs. Having performed as a broadway violinist for decades, Martin says he is using his professional skillset to serve as man’s best friend and connect with hundreds of dogs through the power of music.
What inspires you to volunteer?
After losing Melody, I am inspired to volunteer because rehabilitating recovering animals has brought me so much personal gratification and satisfaction.
Describe your role with American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
The ASPCA has a program called the Animal Recovery Center (ARC), which uses storytellers to calm dogs and ready recovering animals for eventual adoption. Instead of reading to dogs, I proposed another kind of therapy: playing music. Weekly, I visit the ASPCA and play Bach, Beethoven, and Handel’s sonata to a handful of dogs.
How do the dogs react to your music?
I have found that playing classical music like Bach and Handel is certainly what I enjoy and I think they enjoy it too. Once in awhile I’ll do my own improvisation but dogs ears can be very sensitive, so I have to be careful about volume and high pitches. The dogs welcome my music with loud barks, many dogs cock their heads to listen and fiercely wag their tails. All intently watch, and many curl up on their beds.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
I met a dog named Gina who is a pit bull-terrier mix. She had experienced some trauma – one of her legs was wrapped with a bandage and she had a cone over her head. The first time I started playing for her, she would start singing along. She’d come up to the glass separating us and she’d lean her whole body up to the window and would literally sing along to my music. It was one of the most unbelievable experiences to see her reaction.
What’s one way you hope to inspire others in your service?
I certainly hope that no one would suffer the loss of a pet, but if they are struggling, volunteering at an animal shelter or helping a person in any way will be helpful in their own journey to reconnect. It’s satisfying to know you are helping vulnerable people or animals move on to a new step in their life.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
The dogs I play to experience something similar to the connection I have with an audience sitting in a concert hall. It’s rewarding to know that I am giving these very vulnerable and sensitive dogs a respite in their recovery and their daily lives.
What does volunteering mean to you in one word?
Giving. Volunteering has been life changing for me and playing music to animals has taken me behind the scenes of their rehabilitation and has given me a whole new perspective on the work ASPCA does.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned about the importance of the human and canine connection. Through volunteering, I have gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my ability to make a connection with both animals and people.
How can readers help?
Please visit the ASPCA website for more information about how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Martin Agee? Find local volunteer opportunities.