Photography to the (dog) rescue

(as seen in the Culver City News)

I’m often asked how I got into dog rescue. I’m also asked how I endure all the sad stories and how I keep going. 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. Sometimes a dog or a cat is dumped on my doorstep – literally. Sometimes I meet a random stray or a special dog touches my heart and it’s impossible to ignore its plight.

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.

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 won’t ever 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 fur ball 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. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, saying to him, “You’re such a good boy. You look just like Ranger.” Just then, his owner 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 vet’s office a dog that 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 the dog adoptions at the Petsmart in Culver City and met Ranger. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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. I find perfect the words of R.S. Jones, who wrote a poem called Scout: “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.

Lori Fusaro has been voted the best portrait photographer by FoxTV two years in a row. She lives in Culver City with her husband, four cats, and dog. Contact: Lori@FusaroPhotography.com, FusaroPhotography.com