Don't Be Afraid to Adopt an Older Dog, Says Photographer

Lori Fusaro's photograph of Shady the dog.Lori Fusaro's photograph of Shady the dog.The hardest part of loving a pet is having to say goodbye. That's why the idea of adopting an older animal made dog lover Lori Fusaro so uneasy.

"I thought it would just be too sad and painful," Fusaro told Today.com. "I didn't think my heart could take it, so I wasn't willing to open myself up."

But that all changed in June 2012 when Fusaro met Shady while she was photographing dogs at the South Los Angeles Animal Shelter. Shady was 16 years old with infected eyes and a large cancerous tumor on her leg.

"She was so sad and depressed. She wouldn't even lift her head for a treat. I didn't think I could adopt her and I left the shelter without her. But her face never left my mind. She kept popping into my thoughts."

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As she contemplated adoption, Fusaro sought out more information on the dog.

"I thought Shady was a stray that found her way into the shelter," she wrote on her blog. "Turns out I was wrong. Living her entire life with a family and then dumped because she was too old. With this new information, her face haunts me even more."

Fusaro couldn't stand the idea of the gentle dog dying alone, so she took her home and changed her name to Sunny.

"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," she said.

Watching Sunny transform from an anxious shelter dog into the happy family member she is today inspired Fusaro to start Silver Hearts, a photography project that showcases senior pets and the joy they bring to people's lives.

"When I realized that there were probably hundreds of Sunnys languishing in shelters, I knew I had to do something about it. Silver Hearts became a way that I could use my photography to show these dogs as loving, happy souls that have a zest for living and deserve to spend their golden years in a loving home."

Fusaro visited families across the United States to photograph their dogs and share their compelling stories. Many of the dogs were taken to shelters because they got sick or old or because the families could no longer afford to care for them.

Although older dogs are often calmer - and already house-trained - they're typically the highest-risk animals in a shelter. Fusaro hopes her photographs can help change that.

She wants to turn her pictures into a book, with proceeds from sales going to three rescue organizations that help find homes for older dogs: Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in Grove, Calif., Willy's Happy Endings in Woodlawn, Tenn., and Louie's Legacy Animal Rescue in Ohio and New York.

She launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise money to self-publish the book, but failed to make the fundraising goal. Fusaro is now considering other methods of publication.

"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," Fusaro said. "But every dog is important. Every dog deserves a home. I finally just boiled it down to love. That's the most important thing."

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