“I thought it would just be too sad and painful,” Fusaro explains. “I didn’t think my heart could take it, so I wasn’t willing to open myself up.”
Then, about a year ago as Fusaro walked through an L.A. animal shelter, the photographer met Shady, a sweet old dog who radiated kindness, a homeless dog just begging for someone to love.
“Something about Shady touched me,” Fusaro explains. “She was ancient — the shelter said she was 16 and that she had cancer. She was alone and depressed and I couldn’t get her face out of my mind.”
A veteran shelter volunteer, Fusaro knew the grim fate awaiting many senior dogs. Pet owners often surrender their old dogs to shelters when the dogs are ill, worn out, coming to the end of their lives. While some who surrender their senior pets are happy to do so, she says for many others choosing to give up their family dog is a painful experience.
“It’s often an economic thing,” Fusaro explains. “I’ve seen people just in tears and just so torn that they have to give up their animal…it’s really been eye-opening.”
An older dog’s chances of getting adopted can be quite slim. National Director of Emergency Services for the American Humane Association, Justin Scally, tells TODAY.com that though senior pets are often the calmest, are already housetrained, and have ended up at the shelter through no fault of their own, they are the highest-risk population in shelters across the country.
“The most difficult part about older pets in shelters is that many have gone from a comfy couch to being stressed in a dog kennel,” Scally says.
Prospective adopters can be, like Fusaro once was, uncertain about adding an older dog to the family, knowing the dogs may have medical costs and limited time left, so many senior dogs surrendered to shelters never find the caring homes they need before they die. Senior dogs often languish in shelters, and the thought broke Fusaro’s heart.
Fusaro filled out the adoption paperwork immediately and brought Shady home.
“I just couldn’t believe that she had lived with a family her whole life and she was basically going to die in a shelter,” Fusaro says of the now 17-year-old senior dog.
Because of the old girl’s happy disposition, Fusaro decided to rename her new senior dog Sunny. Sunny had her share of health problems, Fusaro says — an eye infection, and a cancerous tumor on her leg — but Fusaro says the veterinary bills weren’t as bad as some might expect. With advice from her trusted veterinarian, Fusaro decided not to opt for invasive treatments for Sunny’s cancer and instead keeps her old dog comfortable with prescribed pain medications.
“When you adopt an older dog, that’s part of the package — you’re probably going to have to make decisions like that,” Fusaro explains.
Inspired by her own experience adopting a senior dog, Fusaro has created a new photography book called Silver Hearts, a special labor of love she says she hopes will change peoples’ minds about adopting an older pet. Silver Hearts is full of touching photographs of and stories about elderly dogs.
“All I really care about is changing the perception of older dogs,” Fusaro explains. “They might be slower and they might sleep a little more, but all the old dogs I’ve met in this past year like to play with their toys and chew on their bones. They still have that zest, that joy for living.”
Once published and released, proceeds from the book will benefit three senior dog rescues — Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in Pacific Grove, Calif.; Willy’s Happy Endings in Woodlawn, Tenn.; and Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue in Ohio and N.Y.
To the animal rescue personnel Fusaro has worked with over the years, Fusaro has the perfect eye for capturing the soul of a dog in need. Donna Reynolds, founder of animal welfare organization BAD RAP, has worked with Fusaro on multiple occasions and praises the photographer.
“It takes a special brand of dog lover to capture the essence of a dog’s individual personality inside of a twenty minute photo shoot and Lori shows us how it’s done,” Reynolds tells PRWeb.com. “Her work is sublime.”
For more information on Lori Fusaro or her new book, Silver Hearts, check out Fusaro’s website at fusarophotography.com.