A new book called My Old Dog shows seniors shine and no dog should die alone
Old Dogs Rock
When I first heard about the book called My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts written by Laura Coffey with superb photographs by Lori Fusaro , staff photographer at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles, I couldn’t wait to get my paws on it. And, now that I’ve read it — and surely will read and reread it many times — I’m thrilled to share news about this most amazing and inspiring book that will move you to tears of joy because senior dogs shine.
Source: Reprinted with permission of publisher and authors
Old dogs rock, however, senior dogs over seven years of age are often the highest-risk group at shelters. However, Ms. Coffey and Ms. Fusaro clearly show that adopting a senior can be more rewarding than choosing a younger dog. And there are all sorts of seniors waiting for loving homes — retired working dogs, law-enforcement dogs, and racing dogs. The book’s description reads: “No Dog Should Die Alone” was the attention-grabbing — and heart-stirring — headline of journalist Laura T. Coffey’s TODAY show website story about photographer Lori Fusaro’s work with senior shelter pets. While generally calm, easy, and already house-trained, these animals often represent the highest-risk population at shelters. With gorgeous, joyful photographs and sweet, funny, true tales of “old dogs learning new tricks,” Coffey and Fusaro show that adopting a senior can be even more rewarding than choosing a younger dog. You’ll meet endearing elders like Marnie, the irresistible shih tzu who has posed for selfies with Tina Fey, James Franco, and Betty White; Remy, a soulful nine-year-old dog adopted by elderly nuns; George Clooney’s cocker spaniel, Einstein; and Bretagne, the last known surviving search dog from Ground Zero. They may be slower moving and a tad less exuberant than puppies, but these pooches prove that adopting a senior brings immeasurable joy, earnest devotion, and unconditional love.”
Source: Remi; Reprinted with permission of publisher and authors
An interview with Ms. Coffey and Ms. Fusaro summarizes My Old Dog , and provides an excellent first-hand review of the book.
Why do a book about senior dogs? What’s so special about them?
Laura Coffey: Senior dogs are awesome. They’re calm, mellow, sweet, loveable, and they’re usually already house-trained. All of these traits make them so much easier than puppies. Dogs in this “golden age” — over the age of about 6 or 7 — often make ideal pets for people with busy lives or for people who simply want snuggly, tranquil companionship. That said, as wonderful as senior animals are, they often represent the highest-risk population at shelters across the United States, where nearly 4 million dogs and cats are put down each year. We wanted to do this book to help change people’s perceptions of these fantastic older animals.
Isn’t it too sad to adopt an older dog, though?
Laura: No, it isn’t! It really, really isn’t! We’ve met dozens of wonderful people who have taken in older homeless animals, and 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 an incredibly rewarding thing to do. Now, is it sad to say goodbye to a dog? Of course it is, but that’s always true. We always want our dogs to live longer. But when you go out of your way to help an older dog who has run out of options, you get so much in return: Affection, gratitude, unconditional love, and so many happy memories.
Lori Fusaro: 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. 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.
Isn’t it too expensive to adopt an older dog?
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 because there are a whole bunch of ways to solve for it. We included a comprehensive resource guide in the book with contact information for senior dog rescue groups. These groups spring older dogs from shelters and handle all of their major veterinary work before putting them up for adoption. 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 vet 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.
My circumstances don’t allow me to adopt or foster a senior dog at this time. Is there anything else I can do to help?
Laura: Yes! There is so much you can do to help! Shelters and rescue groups always need volunteers in areas like animal caregiving, professional grooming, high-quality photography, marketing, fundraising, and administrative assistance like filing, paperwork and document design. You also can donate money to specific senior-dog-rescue efforts highlighted in the resource guide in the back of My Old Dog . Another option is to donate to a nationwide program. The Grey Muzzle Organization carefully checks and provides grant money to effective programs that help homeless older dogs across the country. Grey Muzzle also donates orthopedic dog beds to shelters to get kenneled seniors off the concrete floors. Another group, the White Muzzle Fund, is building an endowment to help fund reputable senior-dog rescue organizations for years to come.
How did it come to pass that George Clooney wanted to be featured in your book? Why does he care about older shelter dogs?
Laura: A) George Clooney is a very cool guy, and B) 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 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 Clooney’s 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 George Clooney for being such a good sport and participating in 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.
Singer and songwriter Neko Case wanted to write the foreword to your book. Why is that?
Laura: Neko Case is more than just a stunningly talented musician — she’s a lifelong animal lover who has rescued many older animals over the years. She’s also an ambassador for Best Friends Animal Society, which works toward the goal of seeing a time when animals will no longer be killed in shelters across the United States. When Neko heard about our My Old Dog book, she jumped at the opportunity to help. She shares details about some of her older dogs in the foreword, and it’s beautiful!
You include a chapter in your book about Bruce Nordstrom, the man who helped grow his namesake company from two shoe stores decades ago into the international retailer that it is today. What is his connection to senior dogs?
Laura: For nearly 30 years now, Bruce Nordstrom and his wife Jeannie Nordstrom have personally provided refuge and care to hundreds and hundreds of animals — from senior dogs to senior farm animals to tiny homeless kittens. It’s almost impossible to stress how much the Nordstroms have done for animal welfare, and they’re so unassuming and low-key about it. The chapter about the Nordstroms is one of my favorite chapters in the book because it’s so unexpected and astonishing and life-affirming. I think people will be surprised when they read it!
One of the more emotional stories in your book involves a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who almost lost his life to suicide. How valuable can the love and companionship of a dog be for a veteran who’s struggling with PTSD?
Laura: I personally wish that every single veteran with PTSD could be paired with a service dog. (If he or she likes dogs, of course!) These dogs do more than provide much-needed companionship. They help veterans get out of the house and mingle with people in really positive ways, because service dogs have public access and can go anywhere the veterans go. The power of this is incredible. When veterans are out and about with dogs, the dogs are people magnets — in a good way! The presence of dogs leads to inevitable conversations, which leads to veterans getting thanked profusely for their service, which leads to veterans feeling less alone and alienated from other people. It’s so, so important.
You include a story in the book about an older golden retriever named Rocky who lives full time at an assisted living facility with a group of women who have Alzheimer’s disease. How common is it to find a dog living in a setting like that?
Laura: We were thrilled to learn that this is indeed becoming more common. A Place for Mom, the largest senior living referral service in the United States, told us that it was able to direct its callers to about 9,600 senior communities that accepted pets in 2014. When people can bring their own pets with them into a nursing-care setting, they adjust to the move and thrive much more quickly, and their lives continue to have purpose because they have someone to care for. A number of facilities also have shared community animals like Rocky who live on site full time. Pets like these help the residents combat loneliness, helplessness, and boredom in ways that are profound and real and important. You almost have to see it to believe it. Rocky’s chapter is another one of my favorites in the book — it speaks volumes about quality of life and dignity for both dogs and humans as they age.
My Old Dog includes a fun chapter about Marnie, an adorable 12-year-old shih tzu who has posed for selfies with Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Betty White, and many other celebrities. Is it really true that Marnie’s former shelter nickname used to be “Stinky”?
Laura: Yes, Marnie just might be the most famous senior dog on the Internet — she has 1.6 million Instagram followers as of August 2015, and her fan base is always growing — but her shelter nickname literally used to be “Stinky.” A wonderful woman named Shirley went to great lengths to adopt Marnie, and Marnie is her very first dog. The story of how those two found each other, and the adventures they’ve gone on to have together, are nothing short of amazing. Talk about a “remarkable second act”!
What’s the connection between senior dogs and the popular book and blog Humans of New York?
Laura: Brandon Stanton, the author and photographer who created Humans of New York, adopted the cutest and funniest-looking little senior dog named Susie back in 2011. Brandon’s girlfriend, Erin O’Sullivan, was struck by how happy Susie made Brandon, and it made her think about how crazy it is that older dogs have such a hard time finding homes. In 2014, Erin launched a Facebook page called “Susie’s Senior Dogs” to connect people with older dogs up for adoption, and that site has done so much good in the short time it’s been around. Our chapter about Brandon, Erin, Susie, and Susie’s newest sibling, a similarly funny-looking dog named Simon, is really funny and charming.
What kinds of working dogs need help to secure safe, comfortable retirements in their later years?
Laura: This can happen to U.S. military dogs who retire overseas in areas that are not war zones. These dogs can spend months and months living in kennels, and it can be quite complicated to get them back to the United States and reunite them with their former handlers. “Contract working dogs” also can need help — these are dogs who do work for various government agencies but who are owned by private contractors. Police K-9s and other law-enforcement dogs sometimes need a helping hand, as well. If they don’t end up staying with their handlers in their retirement years, they can become misunderstood shelter dogs very quickly. And racing greyhounds over the age of about 8 often need special help and attention. For this reason, My Old Dog includes compelling stories of working dogs who needed help securing safe, comfortable retirements when they aged out of their vocations.
My Old Dog includes stories of people who needed help combating loneliness during critical transitions in their lives. How specifically can older dogs help people at such junctures?
Laura: Loneliness can plague anyone, but it can be acutely painful when people suddenly face the death of a spouse, a sudden illness, a job loss, a move to an assisted living facility, or a similar life upheaval. At times like that, dogs make the best imaginable friends. They just love you and want to be with you — and they don’t talk. They never say anything that might make you feel worse. They really are tuned in to your emotions, and they want to help you feel better.
The photographs in My Old Dog are very special. What was the creative process in photographing the dogs in My Old Dog?
Lori: I had an idea of what shot I wanted for each and every dog in this book. And you know what? I didn’t get one of them! Haha! The beauty about creating this book was being in the moment and letting go of every preconceived notion I had. We were up against a lot of challenges. And I had to just let go and let the dogs show me what they were about. Just let the moments come naturally without trying to force it at all. Sometimes it was hard! But I think life is like that. You never know what is going to happen, so it’s important to be able to go with the flow and be willing to see and try new things.
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.
Is it ever upsetting taking photos of shelter pets who need homes?
Lori: The only upsetting thing is that I can’t take them all home, haha! It brings me a lot of joy knowing that my photographs can bring them closer to a family — that I can show the world what I see in them.
Why do old dogs in particular interest you so much in your photographic work?
Lori: I’ve always been drawn to the underdogs — the animals who have special needs. My first cat only had one eye. Something about an animal that others might overlook has always made me want to love that animal. Old dogs are so overlooked and they have so many stigmas to overcome. It makes my heart ache and want to make sure they are loved.
As was mentioned above, My Old Dog also includes a comprehensive resource guide with contact information for senior dog rescue groups all over North America and overseas. These groups spring older dogs from shelters and handle all of their major veterinary work before putting them up for adoption, allowing people to bring home a dog who is good to go.
I love this book and many others agree: all 22 reviews on Amazon have 5 star ratings. I highly recommend My Old Dog for audiences of all ages and will do all I can to spread the good word globally. In so many deep and rich ways, humans and dogs rescue one another.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation , Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed , and Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence. The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)
Author’s Books on Amazon
- A Dog’s World: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World without Humans
- Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do
- Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible
Adopt An Old Dog – Editor’s Comments
Adopt An Old Dog And You’ll Reap Many Benefits
Adopt an old dog and you will be surprised how loyal, loving and entertaining they will be PLUS no dog should die alone is the theme of this excellent book by My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts written by Laura Coffey.
Would You Adopt An Old Dog?
Have you ever considered adopting an old dog? Perhaps you have some experience of sharing your life with an old dog? Either way please share your thoughts by using the comments section below.