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About the Author
Lori Fusaro is staff photographer at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles and owner of Fusaro Photography, whose clients include BAD RAP, Guide Dogs for the Blind, k9 connection, Angel City Pit Bulls, and other animal-rescue organizations. She lives in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
My Old Dog
Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts
By Laura T. Coffey, Lori Fusaro
New World LibraryCopyright © 2015 Laura T. Coffey
All rights reserved.
An "Energizer Bunny Powered on Love" Imparts a Whole New View of Senior Dogs
"Every dog is important. Every dog deserves a home. I finally just boiled it down to love. That's the most important thing."
— Lori Fusaro
Sunny has a face like Eeyore's and a nose like Yogi Bear's. Her eyes sparkle whenever a friend stops by her orthopedic dog bed to pet her soft, furless chin.
At eighteen, Sunny is one of the oldest dogs around — and she's okay with that. Lori and Darrell Fusaro can tell Sunny knows she's in a good place. When she first brought Sunny home from a crowded Los Angeles County shelter, Lori thought the dog might survive for a couple of weeks, tops. Two and a half years later, Sunny is still kicking — and they're still besotted with her.
"Darrell always tells me, 'She knows you saved her,' "Lori said while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon in the couple's cheery living room in Culver City, California.
"She does know you saved her!" Darrell insisted, tucking a pillow under Sunny's dog bed to make sure her head would be elevated just so.
* * *
One sunny Saturday morning, Lori was doing what she did most weekends: volunteering her time as a pet photographer to help animals get adopted from overtaxed shelters. She usually approached these photo shoots with hopefulness, but on this day, the Carson Animal Care Center overwhelmed her. The rows of cages, the incessant barking, the astonishing number of dogs and cats bound for the shelter's euthanasia room — all of it made her feel like she was wading through quicksand.
Partly to cheer herself up, Lori stopped at a kennel and tried offering a treat to a dog named Shady. That backfired; Shady wouldn't even lift her head. "I just wanted to run out of there and never look back," Lori wrote in a blog post that night. "Love. Warmth. Understanding. A friendly touch. A place to belong. Feeling like you matter. Isn't that what we all want? Canine, human, feline — our needs are much the same."
Lori still felt unsettled the next day, but she sensed a kernel of an idea growing. Shady's face kept popping into her mind, and it looked so sad and defeated — but why was it making her feel so energized?
"With every thought of her, it became obvious what I had to do," Lori recalled. "But I'm still somewhat sane, so I made a couple calls to some friends." She wanted to ask them, "Am I crazy to pull a sixteen-year-old dog from the shelter?" Her friends weren't available to answer their phones, though.
Her husband, Darrell, wasn't home either. But Darrell — an artist, online radio host, and author of What If Godzilla Just Wanted a Hug? — is an upbeat guy who tends to share advice like this: "Spontaneity neutralizes fear, amplifies intuition, and lifts us beyond our limitations." Lori opted to be spontaneous. She hopped into her green Kia Soul, drove back to the Carson shelter, and adopted Shady. Right away, she gave the dog a new name:
* * *
At sixteen, Sunny had a host of health problems. Her right eye was badly infected, and she had a bulging, cancerous tumor the size of a tennis ball on her back left leg. Lori didn't care. She was going to make Sunny's last days as comfortable and as joyful as possible. "I was just so touched by her," she said. "She had lived with a family her whole life, and her owners had turned her in because she got cancer."
Lori and Darrell did spend money on veterinary bills for Sunny, but they swear it's not as bad as people might think. Vet visits helped clear up Sunny's eye and led to a sixty-dollar-a-month prescription for pain medication — but Lori, Darrell, and their veterinarian chose to avoid costly, invasive treatment for Sunny's cancer. "When you adopt an older dog, that's part of the package — you're probably going to have to make decisions like that," Lori said. "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."
Sunny bounced back fast and began relishing her time with Lori, Darrell, and their other pets, a twelve-year-old dog named Gabby and two cats named Enzo and Francis. Gabby took an instant liking to Sunny, squeezing next to her on the same dog bed and letting Sunny use her butt as a pillow. The dogs also loved reclining together in dappled sunlight on the living-room couch, slurping up watermelon, romping on the beach, and taking leisurely strolls under the Japanese elm trees in their neighborhood. (A special thrill for Sunny on those strolls: run-ins with Raisin, a white male poodle who lives on her street.)
Sunny's transformation from a scared, disoriented shelter dog to a happy, playful family member got Lori thinking: maybe she could use her photography skills to help a whole bunch of senior dogs. In early 2013, she began work on a photography project she initially called "Silver Hearts." With the tagline "Love doesn't keep track of years," the project aimed to change people's perceptions of older shelter animals.
Lori started taking photos of older dogs around the country and posting them online. In July 2013, I spotted the stunning photos on Facebook. I contacted Lori and wrote a feature story for the TODAY show's website that ran with the headline "'No Dog Should Die Alone': Photographer Promotes Senior Pet Adoption."
Kaboom. The TODAY.com story blew up and got shared all over the world. Then Jill Rappaport did a segment about Lori's efforts on NBC Nightly News, and Sue Manning wrote a story for the Associated Press. Scores of media outlets picked up the story or created versions of their own. The deluge of publicity led to a senior-dog art project, a senior-dog museum exhibit of Lori's photographs, and even "#SeniorDogMitzvah," a project launched by a twelve-year-old Massachusetts boy to help spring an old dog named Bailey from a yearlong shelter stay.
Sunny's contented Eeyore face got splashed across newspapers in faraway places like Malaysia, Germany, Brazil, and the Philippines. As people around the world sighed in relief over her rescue story, messages like these started pouring in:
"You and Sunny were the starting point for me in rescue. You gave me the courage to do what I had always wanted but didn't think I had the strength to do: save animals."
"Because of you and Sunny, I adopted a senior dog two months ago that was scheduled to be put down. Her life and your story have also changed the minds of so many other people, and we are grateful for you and her."
"My wife and I have been thinking about getting a second dog, and reading your article is just the kick in the pants we needed! Gonna look for a senior pooch ASAP!"
All of the unabated — and passionate — interest in homeless senior dogs affected Lori and me so much that we ultimately joined forces. The Silver Hearts project evolved into My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts — second acts like the one enjoyed by Sunny, a once-discarded dog who inspired countless people to help senior shelter animals.
"I still can't believe all of this happened," Lori has said on more than one occasion. "All because I adopted a sixteen-year-old dog!"
* * *
Since her adoption two and a half years ago, Sunny's zest for life has never abated — but her mobility has. She's still able to walk — slowly — but most of the time, Darrell and Lori must help her to her feet so she can amble across a series of throw rugs at mealtimes. They serve Sunny's breakfasts and dinners on a specially raised platform so she won't strain her neck. They also carry her outside for bathroom breaks. "See how fit I've gotten?" Darrell said with a big grin as he hoisted Sunny up from her bed and helped her walk to her water bowl. "Sixty-five pounds every morning!"
Sunny has had several health scares in her new home that felt like the end — but weren't. In October 2013, when she was seventeen, Sunny appeared to have a massive stroke right in front of Darrell. The episode left her completely unresponsive. Darrell and Lori asked friends and family members to pray for her; their veterinarian cautioned that if Sunny ever snapped out of it, her head might stay awkwardly cocked to one side for the rest of her life.
Just when Lori and Darrell were preparing to say good-bye, Sunny looked up at them as if nothing had happened. "I swear, this dog is like Lazarus!" Darrell said. "She came back to life, normal and healthy, even running around like she was in better shape than before. It was fascinating! She got no special medicine other than the same pain pills we were giving her before."
Lori calls Sunny "the Energizer bunny powered on love." Darrell is more convinced than ever of the value of people's love, prayers, and good thoughts. "How can it not have an effect?" he said.
After adopting Sunny, Lori took a full-time job as a staff photographer for Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles. Darrell's schedule as a cartoonist and cohost of the show Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed on Unity Online Radio is more flexible, so he's become Sunny's primary caregiver on weekdays — a responsibility he views not as a burden, but as a privilege.
"In the past, I think I wouldn't have wanted the hassle, but now, it's not a hassle at all!" Darrell said. "It just doesn't feel inconvenient. My perspective has really changed.
"I feel like Sunny has always been here with us. I love her so much. It's indescribable."CHAPTER 2
An Adorable Senior Rescue Dog Attains Wild Fame on the Internet
"Trust that little voice in your head that says, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if ...' And then do it."
— Duane Michals
Marnie the dog is fluffy, friendly, and famous for her tilted head and long, lolling tongue. Onlookers who spot the tiny shih tzu on the streets of New York tend to gawk with disbelief, then smile, then start snapping photos.
Shirley Braha takes this in stride. She knows how unspeakably cute her dog is. Marnie is so irresistible, in fact, that she's become a bona fide celebrity online; with more than one million followers on Instagram, she might just be the most popular senior rescue dog on the internet.
"People love her!" said Shirley, a thirty-one-year-old television and video producer who lives in downtown Manhattan. "She's my dream dog. If I could just create my own dog, she's better than that. She's a dream!"
Most onlookers would never guess key details about Marnie and Shirley's backstory. For starters, Marnie's former shelter nickname was Stinky. When animal-control workers found the little dog wandering the streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, her fur was matted and soaked with urine, and her mouth was full of decaying teeth. No one wanted the smelly, ten-plus-year-old shih tzu.
Bearing that in mind, get this: Marnie is Shirley's very first dog. On December 20, 2012, Shirley traveled more than two hours by subway, train, and taxi from New York to Connecticut to adopt her. Shirley didn't have much to go on — just two hazy photos in a bare-bones Petfinder.com ad — but she said Marnie looked so "cute and helpless" that the adoption journey felt inevitable. She also confessed that the dog's older age appealed to her.
"I'd never had a dog before, and I didn't want to commit to a dog for fifteen or twenty years, you know?" she said. "As selfless as I could make it out to be, I was thinking, 'I don't know where I'm gonna be when I'm forty-five.' Now, of course, I wish she could live forever!"
* * *
The initial sight, and smell, of Marnie took Shirley aback. She still went through with the adoption — but on their first frigid December day together, very little happened to lessen Shirley's uncertainty about what she was doing. She said Marnie "stunk up the whole Metro-North train" on the trek back to New York. Marnie also barked and growled fearfully at the start of the journey. Shirley tried not to panic. "I thought, 'Oh my God, did I really just do this?'" she recalled. "I was shaking. I had gone by myself to get her. It was very scary."
Overwhelmed, Shirley decided to prioritize. First step: help Marnie feel more comfortable and smell nice. She took her straight from the train to PetSmart and had her groomed. "At least then she looked better," Shirley said. "But her mouth was still so bad."
A trip to the vet led to much-needed dental surgery. Marnie had fourteen of her forty-two teeth extracted. "Once she made it through that, it was the beginning of when I started letting myself get really close to her," Shirley said. "After about a week, I let myself say, 'I love you.'"
* * *
Marnie clearly felt better after getting the care she needed, but it took weeks for her true personality to emerge. She even seemed a little boring at first. Then, in February 2013, Shirley brought Marnie along with her to a Super Bowl party. "That was the first time I saw her be really happy — really smile with a big grin," Shirley remembered. "I thought, 'Hmmm. She likes parties!'"
* * *
Ever since that showdown between the Ravens and the 49ers, Marnie has been partying pretty much nonstop. Shirley brings the thirteen-pound dog with her almost everywhere she goes, and Marnie makes everything fun. "She's like my sidekick," said Shirley, who has long, dark hair, glasses, and an easy smile. "We're really a great team."
On jaunts around New York City, Marnie has garnered double takes from — and posed for selfies with — Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Lena Dunham, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Joe Jonas, and Broad City stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. During cross-country trips to Los Angeles, Marnie has hobnobbed with Betty White, Taylor Swift, and Sam Smith. Most of these encounters have been serendipitous, although a few were requested by the celebrities themselves. Instagram set up Marnie's meeting with James Franco, who then tweeted, "I never thought I'd meet Marnie the dog, but today we got some morning coffee."
Marnie's celebrity status keeps skyrocketing because dog lovers can't resist her penchant for costumes, her zany videos, and her playful social-media posts. Here's her profile description on Instagram:
"Twelve-year-old NYC shih tzu adopted from a shelter as a senior lady. I [love] walks & parties. H8 being alone. Adopt senior dogs [thumbs up]."
And her Facebook page lists these "personal interests":
"Likes: watermelon, grass, smelling wood, eye contact, parties, fests, broccoli, eggs, walking in left circles, being held like a baby, meeting nice people & animals, and treats, treats, treats!"
"Dislikes: walking on metal, rain, puddles, baths, blow dryers, dogs that bark at me."
The little dog's extensive digital pawprint reveals an undeniable truth: Marnie appears to have grown younger, not older, since Shirley adopted her. Marnie's left eye used to look cloudy and gray, but it cleared up. Her tan fur is so fluffy and flawlessly groomed that she looks almost unreal, like a toy or a teddy bear.
Excerpted from My Old Dog by Laura T. Coffey, Lori Fusaro. Copyright © 2015 Laura T. Coffey. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword: Please Hold My Paw and Stroke My Ear by Neko Case,
PART 1: FINDING THE GOOD LIFE,
SUNNY, Age 18 An "Energizer Bunny Powered on Love" Imparts a Whole New View of Senior Dogs,
MARNIE, Age 12 An Adorable Senior Rescue Dog Attains Wild Fame on the Internet,
REMY, Age 9 Elderly Nuns Rescue a Dog "No One Is Going to Want",
EINSTEIN, Age 10 When Einstein Met George Clooney, It Was Love at First Sniff,
BOOMER, Age 10 A Big, Beautiful Girl Belongs to David Rosenfelt's Happy Pack of Rescued Seniors,
AKILA, Age 15 Call of the Wild: Couple Feel an Irresistible Pull to Help a Feral Dog,
PART 2: HEALING,
STACIE, Age 10 Old Dog Haven: A Network of Safe Houses for Homeless Senior Dogs,
FIONA, Age 17 A So-Called Hospice Dog Ditches Her Little Red Wagon and Starts Dancing,
MADDIE, Age 7 Together, a Tiny Dog and a Seventy-Five-Year-Old Widow Start Living Again,
JIMMY CHEE, Age 12 A Quiet Greyhound Is a Perfect Fit for a Man on Kidney Dialysis,
HEALEY, Age 14 Rescued from Neglect, a Blind Dog Learns How to Love,
PART 3: HELPING,
ROCKY, Age 15 A Furry Nursing Home Resident Buoys Women Living with Dementia,
SUSIE, Age 15 Brandon Stanton's Pooch Helps Hundreds of Senior Dogs through Her Facebook Page,
CASEY, Age 9 Jeannie and Bruce Nordstrom Love to Nurture Senior Animals in Need,
DUVAL, Age 14 This Reading-Assistance Dog Is the Best Listener Ever,
PART 4: RETIRING WITH PURPOSE,
CULLEN, Age 9 A Retired Service Dog Finds Joy and Meaning in a New Line of Therapy Work,
BRETAGNE, Age 15 The Last Known Surviving 9/11 Search Dog from Ground Zero Still Lends a Helping Paw,
CODY, Age 9 After a Life in Law Enforcement, a German Shepherd Must Be Freed from Doggy Jail,
CHANEY, Age 9 A Ex-Military Dog Helps Ease His Former Handler's Burdens at Home,
PART 5: HOW YOU CAN HELP,
Simple, Surefire Tips for Having a Happy, Healthy Senior Pet by Marty Becker, DVM,
Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks: Tips on Training and Behavior Management by Mikkel Becker,
Seniors Rock! And Here's How to Help Them,
About the Author,
About the Photographer,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderful book, full of hope and love!