‘My Old Dog’ – a gem of book that sparkles with joy
There’s a magnetism about old dogs that I willingly allow to draw me in close and as an obsessive collector of good books, when I spotted the release of one that champions the lives of senior canines, of course the book found its way into my collection.
‘My Old Dog’ is a joyous celebration of a book, (and my joy has nothing to do with the presence within the covers of George Clooney & his dog you understand). I’m absolutely delighted today to be able to share an interview with the two creative brains behind this gem, Laura T. Coffey and Lori Fusaro.
Q. Laura, you’re a self-confessed ‘dog nut’, but why did you decide to get involved with a book about old dogs in particular?
I am indeed a dog nut! My two older dogs, Frida and Manny, follow me from room to room — we tend to travel as a pack together! My love for Frida and Manny prompted me to write a feature story that wound up changing my life and ultimately led to creation of the book.
Back in the summer of 2013, I wrote about Los Angeles photographer Lori Fusaro for TODAY.com, the website of NBC’s TODAY show, where I work as a writer and editor. Lori had launched a beautiful photography project to change people’s perceptions of older shelter dogs, and I found her photos to be mesmerizing. I called her on the phone and spent a long time talking with her about the reasons dogs end up in animal shelters in their later years. This happens to most senior dogs through no fault of their own. Confronted with financial pressures, illness, or another life upheaval, animal owners suddenly may be unable to care for their pets. Then, once older animals land in shelters, they can get overlooked because people think it will be too sad to bring them home. (Even though it really isn’t! More on that in a minute!)
I published a story about Lori’s efforts to help senior shelter dogs along with a photo gallery showcasing her work. The story ran with the headline “‘No dog should die alone’: Photographer promotes senior pet adoption” — and it BLEW UP and got shared all over the world. The story and photographs touched people so deeply that Lori and I eventually teamed up to work on the “My Old Dog” book, which pairs Lori’s photography with my writing.
Q. What do you both say to those who won’t adopt oldies as they think they have health issues or it’s too sad?
Lori: Senior dogs are so wonderful. They’re just like younger dogs, but they somehow know that they have been given a new lease on life. My senior dog Sunny showed her love for me every single time I came into the room. It’s like she knew I rescued her from early death. She freely gave kisses and followed me around everywhere. My more recent senior rescue dog Mr. French is like that, too. It’s like they know, and they just want to let you know how grateful they are to you. Also, old dogs live in the moment. They are happy to sleep. They are happy to go for a walk. They are excited to eat. They go with the flow. They seem to relish each day, no matter what is going on.
Laura: Many older shelter dogs do require veterinary care, such as dental work, but people on a budget don’t have to be too scared about this these days because there are a whole bunch of ways to solve it. We included a comprehensive resource guide in the “My Old Dog” book with contact information for senior dog rescue groups across North America and around the world. These groups spring older dogs from shelters and handle all of their major veterinary issues, including potentially costly dental work, before putting them up for adoption. (Oldies Club does similar in the UK). Some organizations, such as Old Dog Haven in Washington state and Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Tennessee, do something slightly different that is quite amazing: they pull older dogs from shelters and take care of any urgent veterinary needs, and then they place the dogs in permanent foster homes and continue to cover all veterinary costs for the rest of the dogs’ lives. In cases like these, people who open their homes to these senior dogs never have to worry about a single veterinary bill.
“Seniors for Seniors” programs also are wonderful provisions offered by many shelters and rescue organizations. These programs match mellow older dogs with older humans, and they almost always waive adoption fees and cover all initial veterinary and grooming expenses. Many “Seniors for Seniors” programs also provide free welcome-home kits with dog bowls, leashes, harnesses, collars, food, medication, dog beds, and more.
Even if people adopt senior dogs directly from shelters without taking advantage of any special programs or assistance, they can keep these cost-saving details in mind: With older dogs, it often doesn’t make sense to do high-dollar, heroic procedures such as lengthy cancer treatments. Instead, the focus is on helping dogs enjoy good quality of life, minimizing discomfort, and giving them lots of love.
Q. Society loves pretty, young and cute, dogs included. Oldies with their lumps and bumps and rickety bodies have an image problem. How can we put this right?
Laura: You are absolutely right about that. Senior dogs contend with some of the same issues as senior humans: in a culture obsessed with newness and youth, they can get sidelined or, even worse, shunned. But this shouldn’t be the case because older dogs are so wonderful — and so adorable! They make such good buddies during this phase of their lives, and they have so much going for them: they’re calm, mellow, adaptable, loveable, and they’re usually already house-trained. All of these traits can make them much easier than puppies. Dogs in this “golden age” — over the age of about 6 or 7 — often make ideal pets for busy people or for people who simply want snuggly, tranquil companionship.
Q. Will your book help us win over those who think puppies are fun and oldies are boring?
Yes, it really will! Puppies are fun — but they’re also a lot of work because they love to destroy property and pee with abandon. Older dogs might be a bit less rambunctious and energetic than puppies, but that isn’t a bad thing at all for people with busy lives. Mind you, so many of the senior dogs we met love to run and play and have fun — they still have a great zest for life, and they still want to party! They’ve just grown into their paws — and their brains — and they’re much more apt to behave the way you hope a dog will behave.
We spent time with dozens of wonderful people who have taken in older homeless animals, and they don’t describe the experience as boring at all. On the contrary, they consistently say it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done. Seeing a dog feel so relieved and grateful and content is the best thing ever. It’s just such an incredibly rewarding thing to do.
Q. Tell me one of your favourite dog stories.
We were so excited that actor and filmmaker George Clooney wanted to participate in the “My Old Dog” book! This wound up working out because A) George Clooney is a very cool guy, and B) a few years back he adopted an older cocker spaniel named Einstein who has chronically dry eyes and a thyroid condition and who got pulled from a shelter by a fantastic organization called Camp Cocker Rescue. Camp Cocker volunteers rehabilitated the morbidly obese, sick dog and helped his true personality to emerge — and then they made an adorable video about Einstein. George Clooney told us he spotted the video online and instantly fell in love with his future dog.
Our chapter about his adoption of this dog includes all sorts of details that have never been reported or shared anywhere, and many of them are hilarious! We are so grateful to him for being such a good sport and contributing to this book project. He really did do a great thing when he adopted Einstein, and he set a wonderful example for others who might be in the market for a new pet. And just days ago in late October, he and his wife Amal Clooney did it again! The couple adopted a Basset hound named Millie from a shelter in Southern California. That made me so happy to see!
Q. Lori, how have you tried to use photography to help senior dogs find homes?
Lori: I’ve volunteered in shelters for years, and with every dog I photograph, I try to bring their personality to the forefront. If they love toys, I want to see them playing and having fun with balls and stuffed animals. If they are couch potatoes who love lounging on the sofa, I want to show that in a way that makes them look just too adorable to pass up. The most important thing to me is showing their zest for living and what makes them special. By seeing that side of a senior dog, people are more likely to realize that they are just like other dogs. They might be a little bit slower, but they still have all the wonderful qualities that make dog lovers love dogs to begin with.
Laura T. Coffey is a writer, editor, and producer for TODAY.com, the website of NBC’s TODAY show. An award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience, Laura has written and edited hundreds of high-profile human-interest stories. She lives in Seattle.
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.