In May of 2013, photographer Lori Fusaro decided to share her passion for getting more senior pets adopted, a passion inspired by her beloved Pit Bull, Sunny. She started a Facebook page called My Old Dog, which led to a book deal and a wider-reaching platform for her message: “Love doesn’t keep track of years.”
I’ve known Fusaro for ages. She is my Riggins’ personal photographer (yes, my dog has a personal photographer), and I have her work displayed in almost every room of my home. Not only is Fusaro talented, she also is selfless in using her gift to help animals find their forever homes.
A year before launching My Old Dog, her work with shelter and rescue animals took a more personal turn upon meeting Sunny, who was 16 years old at the time, or “ancient” as described by her vet. I recently sat down with Fusaro in her studio at a Los Angeles rescue, interrupting her session with a darling kitty, to talk about her source of inspiration and the project, which has grown bigger than she ever dared to imagine.
Although always lending her talent to rescue groups, she was hesitant to work with high-kill shelters. Fusaro felt she couldn’t bear getting to get to know a dog well enough to capture his personality, only to later learn the dog had been euthanized. This happens regularly. A colleague eventually persuaded her to go into the Los Angeles shelters, to the animals who needed her most.
It was at the Los Angeles County Shelter in Carson that her life changed. Fusaro was in a position to see the agony some owners went through when surrendering an animal. She admits to once being judgmental of people who surrender dogs, but her perception that all old or ill dogs had been simply dumped with little care and thought was soon shattered.
During our recent talk, Fusaro recalled the story of a low-income senior who brought her 12-year-old Pit Bull to a shelter. The dog’s owner was having to move into a small apartment with family, where she would be sharing a room with others, including another dog. It just wasn’t possible for her to bring her own.
“She [the dog’s owner] stayed at the shelter for four hours sobbing because she didn’t want to leave her dog, and when I saw that I was like, this is like most people,” she said. “Of course, there are nasty people, but most of them are not.”
It was also at the Carson facility where Fusaro met Sunny. She had spent hours and hours with homeless pets, so what was it about this particular Pit Bull that made her pause? Fusaro said there was something about Sunny, who never seemed to move and seemed so dejected and sad, that compelled her to sign the adoption papers. The dog was meant to be a member of the Fusaro family, and Sunny lived the last few years of her life as a source of inspiration and companionship for them.
Fusaro’s husband, Darrell, completely fell in love with the old girl. She invaded not only his heart but also his art, as Sunny started showing up in his cartoons and drawings.
Also, Gabby, the couple’s other dog, and Sunny became best friends, with Gabby sticking close to keep Sunny company and to make sure she was okay toward the end of her life, which came about just last month.
Fusaro described Sunny as “an Energizer bunny powered by love.” It was this love that pushed her to help raise awareness of older pets looking for homes in which to live out their golden years. She decided a photo book of old dogs living life to the fullest was the perfect answer.
After realizing that getting such a book published was a much lengthier processes than she wanted it to be, Fusaro took matters into her own hands and decided to self-publish. This lead to a Kickstarter campaign, which she called “the most successful failure ever.”
The campaign did not hit its goal, leaving her with no funds, but it did get the word out on her project. Laura Coffey with Today.com did a story on Sunny and her loving mom, and Jill Rappaport did a segment for NBC Nightly News.
The story of adopting and caring for an older dog hit close to home for Cheryl Pientka, a literary agent who had recently adopted a senior survivor of Hurricane Sandy. While Fusaro worked to get her photographs together, the agent went after a book deal.
The response to the idea was nothing short of amazing. The book went to auction, which is extremely rare for first-time authors, especially when the book can be considered for a niche audience. An editor with New World Library, Jason Gardner, stood out among the others interested. He shared Fusaro and Pientka’s passion for the topic and their ultimate goal: to help more senior pets get adopted. Although a smaller publishing company, it was the perfect fit.
Fusaro asked Coffey to write the stories to accompany her photos, and the two of have been traveling the country collecting material. Like Sunny, each senior dog they visit comes with a unique and amazing tale.
My Old Dog: Rescued Pets and Remarkable Second Acts will publish in the fall of 2015, with a portion of the proceeds going to help senior dogs.
How did all this happen so fast? “It was the perfect storm,” Fusaro said. “People started seeing this dog [Sunny] age younger [on Facebook], and they were drawn to her.”
Sunny showed Fusaro, as she puts it, that “love doesn’t keep track of years,” and now the photographer is working hard to ensure Sunny’s message continues to touch hearts and lives.
Do you have a senior pet? Share your stories and photos with us in the comments.
This article is dedicated to Sunny Fusaro (1995-Oct 20, 2014). Everyone who knew you and knew of you loved you dearly. You will be missed but never forgotten.
Read more on senior dogs:
About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.