Photographer Lori Fusaro has always loved dogs, but it wasn’t until recently that she found it in her heart to adopt a senior dog. It was just too difficult, knowing her time with them would be cut short.
“I thought it would just be too sad and painful,” said Lori. “I didn’t think my heart could take it, so I wasn’t willing to open myself up.”
It was during a photography shoot at Los Angeles shelters in an effort to get more animals adopted that she saw the high number of older dogs that were spending their last days without families. It shocked her to learn how many were surrendered so close to the end of their lives.
“My hope is to inspire people to not overlook the old ones,” she explained.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for older dogs to be given up, but when owners suddenly face major life changes, like home foreclosure, military deployment, divorce or illness, they are left with painful choices and few alternatives. Many who move into nursing homes are forced to surrender pets because the homes do not accept them, and they have no loved ones to care for their animals.
“It’s often an economic thing,” Lori said. “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.”
Even though these are great pets – house-trained and relatively easy-going – they are the most at risk for euthanasia.
“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,” said Justin Scally, national director of emergency services for the American Humane Association. He says this happens to most senior dogs “by absolutely no fault of their own.”
Moved by the hardship these gentle dogs face, having their worlds completely swept from under their feet, Lori took an interest in 16-year-old Sunny. She had a cancerous tumor on her leg and eye infections, but Lori fell in love.
“I was so touched by her. Her owners had turned her in because she got cancer,” she said. “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.”
It was worth it to spend money on the sweet old girl – about $60 per month for pain medication. Vets treated her eye infections, but they abstained from the expensive surgery, as it seemed too invasive at this stage of her life.
“When you adopt an older dog, that’s part of the package — you’re probably going to have to make decisions like that. But for extreme health issues that would arise, I would not prolong her life just to keep her living. I want her quality of life to be good,” Lori said. “I always come back to the idea that no dog should have to die alone. Even if she got just two months of joyous, happy life, it’s worth it for my heartbreak.”
Seeing Sunny transform from a scared and disoriented dog into a content and playful family member inspired Lori to use her skills as a photographer to help other senior dogs. About six months ago, she started work on a photography book called “Silver Hearts,” the tagline reading: “Love doesn’t keep track of years.”
Once the book is published, she’d like to donate proceeds to three rescue organizations that specialize in finding good homes for senior pets: Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue in New York and Ohio; Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in Grove, CA; and Willy’s Happy Endings in Woodlawn, TN.
So far she’s completed about 80 percent of the photos for the book, getting stories and shots from families from coast to coast. She tried to raise the publishing funds with an online campaign, but the goal amount wasn’t met in time, so pledged money remained with donors.
But Lori isn’t giving up. If she can’t self-publish (keeping costs as low as possible to ensure the most money sent to shelters), she may have to go through publishing companies, or start out by producing a calender of frosted faces.
“All I really care about is changing the perception of older dogs. 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,” Lori said. “When I look back at my unwillingness to adopt an older dog, it was more about my own selfishness – about not wanting to feel that pain, not wanting to make hard decisions. But every dog is important. Every dog deserves a home. I finally just boiled it down to love. That’s the most important thing.”