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Joy Is The Word For The Day

By PhotoLori on Jun. 22, 2017

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I never, ever thought I'd be working at a shelter. But my photography led me to take a job working every day among homeless pets and one of my jobs is to help find them homes. It's an amazing feeling when that happens. Just amazing!

Because I have a soft heart, it can be hard for me. It's rare that I let a dog or cat fully enter my soul. And when they do, they live there forever. When I see a dog or cat that touches me, I am lucky to be able to make them my studio animal. That means I can bring them into my office during the day and let them hang out. It's dangerous, though. The potential to fall deeply, madly, passionately in love grows and the inevitable happens. I want to bring them home. 

Donatella9699LF.jpgCoco Puff entered my life about 6 months ago. Oh my goodness. She just broke my heart! This sweet dog was adopted 5 years earlier and returned through no fault of her own. But she was devastated. She was confused. She refused to interact with anyone and would hide in her cubby. Every single time I walked by, my heart would shatter into a million pieces. 

And so I decided she needed me. She became my new office dog and I intended to help her some out of her shell and learn to be okay in her new environment, while she waited for her new family to find her. Oh, Coco Puff! I still remember that very first day in the studio. I went to her kennel and opened the door. I fully expected her to bound out of the cubby, knowing that she was going for a walk. Instead, she stayed curled in a tight ball and wouldn't move. With a little coaxing, she finally came out and I leashed her up.


She was so timid and unsure. She walked next to me with her tail tucked firmly under her. She was hesitant. She was skittish. After a walk about the yard, we made our way into my office. I took the leash off and sat down at my desk. Coco Puff went into the farthest corner. She curled herself into a tight ball and began to shake. I was filled with sadness and doubt. Was I pushing her too much to come out of her shell? Was bringing her into my office a bad idea? I decided to wait it out for a bit and see what she would do. I started editing. And waited. Every so often, I would peek at the big brown lump, shaking in the corner. 

Oh, how she broke my heart! But I was patient. And I didn't talk to her. I let her adjust and take it all in. After about an hour (and, honestly, I didn't think it would happen) she began to explore her surroundings. I contained my happiness, not wanting to scare her. I watched her sniff every inch of the studio. She was tentative, but slowly her tail relaxed and she stopped shaking. And then, she came over to my desk and sniffed my foot. Then my knee. And finally she made eye contact. And with that, a teeny tiny tail wag. My heart filled with joy!

17157596_10154281649251516_2593863382225981298_o.jpgWhen I took her back to her kennel, I knew she was going to be okay. I also knew that with time (and my help) she would become a happier, more confident dog, ready for her new home. And so, every few days, I'd bring her in my office. The transformation was absolutely amazing.

After about a week of hanging out with me, she finally didn't shake. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We entered the studio and she decided she wanted to run around. Zoomies! She found the basket of toys and picked one out. Then she brought it over to me and dropped it at my feet. Who knew she loved to play fetch? It became a routine with us. She pick a toy. (And it was different one every day) We'd play fetch for a bit and then I'd get to work. Coco Puff would take a nap at my feet. 

17159098_10154284800151516_5779656342560474684_o.jpgAfter about a month of this, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted to bring her home.  I wanted to adopt her. I wanted to make her part of my family. But I knew it was impossible. I also knew that when she found her home, I would be heartbroken. Such is life, working in a shelter and falling in love.

I have a friend. She and I have known each other for a decade. We adopted our dogs at the same time, from the same rescue. It's how we met. She was going through the same things with her dog, Blossom, as I was with my Gabby. It's never easy to watch your baby grow old. I will never forget the text I received from Kea. It broke my heart into a million pieces. It was Blossom's time to cross the rainbow bridge. Kea and her husband Casey were, of course, devastated. I was, too. Coco Puff-IMG_0469-LF.jpg

A few days later, I had Coco Puff in my office and she was being so silly. A thought entered my mind. Coco would be a perfect fit with Kea and Casey. But the loss of Blossom was so fresh, I knew I could never bring that up. I didn't know how long their mourning process would be. I didn't want to interfere. And so I continued to be on the lookout for a home for her. But deep in my heart, I knew that she belonged with them. 

About a month later, Kea texted me. "You are never going to guess where we are! At Best Friends Animal Society LA looking at dogs!" All at once my heart sank and sprang to life. They were ready to open their hearts. They were ready to honor Blossom's memory by bringing a new dog into their lives. But no, they were at a different shelter. I was so happy they were adopting, but I knew they just had to meet Coco. So I called her.

CocoPuff_CarRide.jpg"I am so excited for you! But before you adopt you have to meet my office dog, Coco Puff." Casey and Kea agreed. I went to Best Friends Animal Society Mission Hills to pick her up and bring her to a park to meet them. I knew that would be a better place for a meeting because Coco was still shy meeting new people and still unsure in the kennel. I wanted everything to go smooth.

The entire drive I worried. What if Coco Puff went back to her ways of shaking and cowering. What if she didn't like them. What if Kea and Casey had already fallen in love with another dog? I was torturing myself and finally I decided I just needed to let it all go. To realize that if it was meant to be, all would go smoothly without a hitch.

Snoozing.jpgI pulled into the driveway and opened the back door to get Coco Puff. Kea and Casey were already there waiting. Coco went up to them immediatley and gave them each a sniff. And then she wanted to walk. We took a stroll to the park. So far so good. 

At the park she was very focused on me. She did pay them attention, but it was like she was my dog. And I wanted them to bond. So I decided to take a walk and let them be alone. As I walked away, Coco Puff's eyes never left me. I walked further away and finally she began to interact with Kea and Casey. My heart relaxed a little bit. I stayed away for about 15 minutes. After the meet and greet, we went to our cars. Kea said that they had really liked two other dogs and would talk about it, sleep on it and make a decision in the morning. Oh, the agony. But I knew that if it was meant to be, it would.

CocoPuff_SunningHerself.jpgThe next morning, I got a phone call. It was Kea. "We're on our way to Mission Hills to pick up Coco Puff!" I couldn't contain my excitement. Coco Puff was going home. Kea and Casey were going to be her family. I was so happy. And somehow, I know that Blossom is running around the rainbow bridge full of joy. She knows how lucky Coco Puff is to have landed with her people. Who knows, maybe Blossom helped pave the way. I know she approves. Life has a funny way of turning out. 

Professional photographer and dedicated animal activist LoriFusaro 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 LoriFusaro.

Read more from Lori Fusaro. This one's amazing, too.

Learn more about Best Friends Animal Society - LA.

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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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