Music reduces pet stress in shelters Pamela Fisher and her best friend, Lili pose in a field of flowers in Canton, Ohio. (Dr. Pamela Fisher via AP/Thinkstock)
Music reduces pet stress in shelters
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Can music tame the savage beast? Can it hush puppies and calm kitties?
 
A veterinarian thinks so. Dr. Pamela Fisher has put music in over 1,100 animal shelters, saying that it calms dogs and cats and even cuts down on barking.
 
Fisher started the nonprofit Rescue Animal MP3 Project nearly four years ago by asking artists around the world to donate dog- and cat-friendly music. The result was MP3 players packed with 30 hours of classics, including music by Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin, nursery rhymes like "Three Blind Mice" and harps, pianos and violins mimicking ocean waves and gentle breezes. She gives them free to animal shelters, sanctuaries and spay-and-neuter clinics.
 
"I have used therapeutic music in my practice and wanted to figure out a way to help the shelter animals in my own community," said Fisher, a holistic veterinarian whose practice in North Canton, Ohio, includes alternative approaches like aromatherapy. Her "community" has grown to include shelters in all 50 states that house over 115,000 dogs and cats.
 
One fan is Tina Gunther, vet tech at the Cut Bank Animal Shelter near Cut Bank, Montana, and its sole volunteer (there are no paid employees). Winter temperatures at the rural shelter for six dogs and six cats routinely run well below zero and "the wind blows nearly every day. We call them black blizzards - the top soil is just blown away," Gunther said.
 
To calm the animals, Gunther tried the radio. Besides hit-and-miss reception, the news and sports had people yelling and disturbing sound bites. Then the project MP3 player was installed for the dogs on one side. "The difference has been dramatic," she said.
 
She and her husband had to buy a second player for the cats. "When they play songs they like, they go and sit by the speakers," Gunther said.
 
No one has studied the impact of Fisher's specific music recipe. But others have looked at how music and noise in general affect animals. A 2012 Colorado State University study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that dogs were more likely to sleep and less likely to bark when Mozart, Beethoven and other classical artists were playing, but not when heavy metal, altered classical and other sounds were.
 
Fisher's website features many testimonials about the positive effects of her MP3 players, including a video from the Tuscarawas Humane Society in Dover, Ohio, that shows dogs relaxing and settling down after hearing the music. Tuscarawas shelter director Lindsey Lewis says on the video that the music has calmed the atmosphere and lowered the noise level.
 
A survey of more than 500 shelters conducted by Fisher also validated her approach, finding barking reduced by half and animals on average more relaxed.
 
"It just de-stresses them. They are still happy and wiggly, they just aren't barking," explained Tania Huycke-Phillips, the foster and facilities coordinator at Bay Area Humane Society in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
 
Beyond the music, the shelter staff does all it can to reduce stress for the dogs, including toys, treats, food and spending time with them. "Reducing stress shows off their personalities and they get adopted quicker," she said.
 
To buy the MP3 players, Fisher applies for grants, collects donations and holds fundraisers.
 
The music also helps relax staff members and that benefits the animals too, said Fisher, who grew up singing and playing folk music on the guitar.
 
The project brought Fisher a new best friend, but it took a look, not a sound, to seal the deal. She was installing the music system at Summit County Animal Control in Akron, Ohio, in 2012 when a mutt named "Lili stole my heart with her glance."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does music seem to calm the animals?
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COMMENTS (65)
  • baylees-day
    10/08/2015 - 05:12 p.m.

    I thought this article was very cute. Its terrible that so many animals get put in shelters all the time, so to have a way to calm them down is great! Animals do in fact get stressed very easily, from either new surrounding, dramatic changes, and/or new people or animals. In a shelter, their environment is always changing, so this probably does help, and i hope more shelters catch on to this.

  • brandons-day
    10/08/2015 - 06:14 p.m.

    This article is very sweet. It shows how much the owner of this program cares about animals. I have read studies that classical music soothes an animal and heavy metal and other music in that genre make the animal become more violent. Im glad to see people care so much and are willing to donate so much of their time to this cause.

  • ianc-day
    10/09/2015 - 10:56 a.m.

    This article makes sense. Music calms humans so it seems to make sense that it would have some of the same effects on animals. This allows animals to relax which some animals need to do. The question is what type of music do the animals like other than peaceful music?

  • taylorr-day
    10/09/2015 - 01:29 p.m.

    I think it's really cool how the dogs reacted to the music. The calming music reduces the dogs barking and causes them to be less stressed. I also feel like this could help them get adopted if they're not barking all the time and are more playful and relaxed.

  • matthewc-day
    10/09/2015 - 04:23 p.m.

    This is a very cool and interesting story. Being a dog lover, I always feel terrible when those depressing animal shelter commercials come on TV. It is just so sad to see man's best friend suffering. I think it is very creative and kind to use music to relax the dogs. Music is used to relax people so I can understand how it has a similar effect on cats and dogs. I am very happy to know that shelters are doing everything they can to relax the animals and treat them in a kind, caring way.

  • jordynd-day
    10/09/2015 - 11:36 p.m.

    In the article, it said that when listening to the music the dogs didn't bark as much. I'm thinking that the dogs liked the background noise and maybe that's why they bark sometimes because noise soothes them. I can relate to this because all of the babies in my family soothe themselves by singing or talking to themselves. They just like to hear something consistently.

  • josephc1-day
    10/12/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    This is so cool. I never would have thought that music could calm an animal down. Now we got new ways to make our pets quiet if they get rowdy. Maybe all animal homes/shelters could get those music systems installed.

  • laurend-day
    10/13/2015 - 07:34 a.m.

    I've heard of music being therapeutic for humans, but this is he first I've heard of it being used to calm animals. I think this is very nice, especially because there are so many animals in shelters that have stress and anxiety due to being abused. The article brought out that there has been a dramatic difference in the animals since music has been played for them. It's intersting that animals can distinguish music sounds, and it affects them. My dog never seemed to be enthused by any sort of music I shoved in his ear, but maybe I will try again.

  • sierrab-ste
    10/13/2015 - 11:52 a.m.

    I believe this actually works and I believe all shelters should do this. However, does it need to be "animal friendly" music. Couldn't you play any type of music to calm the animals down? Or maybe just soothing music not all upbeat, crazy music cause that could make the animals go nuts.

  • derekh-day
    10/13/2015 - 12:22 p.m.

    Wow, whenever I practiced my clarinet all my dog did was cry. Perhaps that's because it was really high pitched at times, or maybe I was just really bad. Animals relaxing to music almost gives them a personality of their own. I wonder if some prefer certain genres over others.

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