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Giving to the Rescue: My Journey into Photographing Pets in Need

By PhotoLori on Feb. 2, 2017

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"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." Pablo Picasso

I’m often asked how I got into dog rescue and taking adoption photos for shelter pets. I’ve had animals my entire life: Dogs, cats, horses, hamsters—you name it, I’ve called one my own. I’m a big softy when it comes to creatures of all kinds. I can’t watch when an animal gets hurt on TV or in the movies. "Old Yeller" makes me cry. Heck, even "Bambi" makes me cry. So I guess a love for animals has always been in my blood.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t ready to get a dog of my own, so I decided to volunteer with an animal rescue. I had never done that before and I thought it would be a good way to get my puppy fix. I must admit that it’s not always easy. Sometimes my heart can’t take it and I have to take a few steps back. Taking a break doesn’t last long though. I start to get antsy and want to get back into the swing of helping animals find their forever homes.

Sometimes a dog or a cat is dumped on my doorstep – literally. I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m known as the dog lady in my neighborhood. Hopefully not as the crazy dog lady, but you never know. Anytime a neighbor finds a homeless animal, invariably they wind up on my doorstep asking for help. And of course I always do what I can. Sometimes I meet a random stray or a special dog touches my heart and it’s impossible to ignore its plight. We have a park at the end of our street and over the years, probably 20 dogs have found their way there. I’m never sure if their person brings them there, hoping a kind Samaritan will take them in or if the dogs just find their way to where picnics are held and they have access to good garbage pickings.

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I’ve always loved photographing animals, as well. In fact, that was the spark that got me started with the rescue. After seeing the poor-quality photographs of needy dogs on Petfinder.com, I realized that I had something to offer. I wanted to make sure that adoption photos were powerful and gorgeous, so that no one looking for a pet could resist a meeting. They would fall in love and, bingo, scratch another doggie (or kitty) off of the “need a home” list.

After working with rescues for a few years, I decided to make the leap into helping the local shelters. It was during this time that I stumbled on HeARTs Speak, an organization of artists who donate their talents to animal welfare groups all over the world. I never realized that there were so many people out there doing exactly what I did. I am so proud to be a part of this group and all the wonderful things they are doing to help homeless animals find homes.

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I never knew if my photographs actually made a difference until one day when I was in my veterinarian’s office—Dr. Gebroe from the Culver City Animal Hospital. It was a day I will never forget. I was waiting in the lobby when out of the corner of my eye I saw a big, red fur ball. It was a happy dog, full of energy. He looked just like Ranger Red—the first dog I ever photographed for Karma Rescue. Ranger Red was a retriever mix and, sadly, one of the longest residents at the rescue. The furball of a dog came over to greet me. It was strange the way this dog and my own dog, Gabby, interacted with each other. It was as if they had known each other for years. I scratched him behind the ear and he licked my face, then Gabby’s too. His tail was wagging about a mile a minute.

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I couldn’t help but laugh outloud, saying to him, “You’re such a good boy. You look just like Ranger.” Just then, his pet parent turned to me and said, “This is Ranger.” I couldn’t believe it—what a small world. What were the odds that I would find in my veterinarian’s office a dog who I had known years ago?

We started chatting about Ranger and Gabby, who also came from Karma Rescue. The two dogs probably knew each other from their days in the kennel. Ranger’s owner, Jim, said it was fate that he actually went to meet Ranger. He had been looking for a dog for a while but had not “clicked” with any. During his many Internet searches, he looked at hundreds of dogs. He said the photos he saw were blurry or that the dog looked scared or sick, so he automatically ruled out any face-to-face meetings. That was until he clicked on Ranger’s photo. The photo that I took! He said that it was as if Ranger Red was looking right at him and begging to be taken home. That Saturday, Jim went to Karma’s dog adoptions event and met Ranger. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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When I told him that I was the one who took those pictures, he got a little choked up. He couldn’t stop thanking me. He couldn’t stop telling me how I had helped him find the best dog ever. Ranger licked my face. I guess he was in total agreement.

I still get a silly grin on my face when I think about my part in Jim and Ranger’s story. It makes me so proud that a photo I took led them to each other. And it’s what keeps me doing what I do, even on the rough days or when I’m not sure if my photographs make a difference.

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One of my favorite poems pretty much sums it up perfectly. R.S. Jones wrote a poem called "Scout" and this is my favorite part: “You paused outside to look into my cage. I tried to play it right, wanting to catch your eye with a shy glint in my own, a soft bark, that said, ‘Choose me,’ in a canine grammar I hoped you’d understand. I let one paw hover in the air but looked away, not wanting to show my eagerness but wanting to find a way to tell you that I would be a good dog and how much I wanted to be owned. When you dropped to your knees and reached two fingers toward my fur I let myself fall, letting my body form the words, head back, eyes closed, throat exposed, legs flailing in the air. ‘Please,’ I said. ‘Yes, please. Take me. Yes.’

If I can help one dog or cat find that, then it’s a very good day.

 

Professional photographer and dedicated animal activist Lori Fusaro takes photos of shelter dogs and cats at Best Friends Animal Society - L.A. in hopes that the images will help them find their forever homes. She also has a soft spot for pit bulls. Be sure to check out "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," a book written by Laura T. Coffey, with photos by Lori Fusaro.

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by Gracie
‎09-06-2016 07:43 AM

Hi Lori - Back in July I wrote you about a photo-assignment I believe you did at various shelters.  One story in  particular broke my heart and I can't get it out of my mind.  It was about a widow forced to give up her old dog to a shelter because she had to move in with family and dogs weren't allowed.  Has there been any follow up on the story?  By claiming the dog was an emotional support animal, the landlord would have to allow the dog to stay.  Could you please let me know if Petco, the local news or anyone tried to help the woman and dog?  If not, could you email me the details (the shelter, the pet's name, etc.)?  I'd like to get involved.  If you're not the right person, I'd really appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction.  Many thanks.

 

 

Hi Lori - Back in July I wrote you about a photo-assignment I believe you did at various shelters.  One story in  particular broke my heart and I can't get it out of my mind.  It was about a widow forced to give up her old dog to a shelter because she had to move in with family and dogs weren't allowed.  Has there been any follow up on the story?  By claiming the dog was an emotional support animal, the landlord would have to allow the dog to stay.  Could you please let me know if Petco, the local news or anyone tried to help the woman and dog?  If not, could you email me the details (the shelter, the pet's name, etc.)?  I'd like to get involved.  If you're not the right person, I'd really appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction.  Many thanks.

 

 

Posted on Sep. 6, 2016
About the Author
  • Lori Fusaro has worked as a photographer since 1996. Her boutique studio, Fusaro Photography, is based in Los Angeles, CA, where she is well known for her lifestyle portraiture of pets. She was honored as the top portrait photographer in the L.A. area for four consecutive years and her work has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show Pets, In Touch Magazine and in the book ‘So You Want To Be A Pet Photographer’. Lori has a soft spot for seniors and her book “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts is a National Best Seller.
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