LOS ANGELES — Sunny was 16 when she was left at an animal shelter by the family she had lived with all her life. The 75-pound bulldog-pit bull mix had cancer and infected eyes, and shelter workers figured the family probably couldn't handle her medical costs.
"She was so sad and depressed, lethargic, sick-looking. She wouldn't even lift her head for a treat," said photographer Lori Fusaro, who was taking pictures of old dogs at the Los Angeles shelter that day in June 2012.
Those who rescue and care for old pets say it seems more are being left at shelters for health reasons and more owners are facing personal age or health problems and can't keep their pets.
Fusaro, 44, had always avoided adopting older dogs because she didn't think she could handle it when they died. Sunny changed her mind. "No old dog should be left to die alone, unloved and broken-hearted on a concrete slab in a strange place," she said.
That day, Fusaro adopted Sunny and started making plans for Silver Hearts, a photo book of old dogs that she hopes will encourage people to consider such animals. She plans to turn proceeds over to rescue organizations that save aging dogs.
When she took Sunny home, Fusaro figured she had a couple of weeks, perhaps months at most. But Sunny rebounded and was soon eating, playing and loving trips to the beach. It's been over a year and Sunny is 17 now.
Patrice deAvila of Portland, Ore., has always adopted older and medically needy cats
Persian cats Murphy and Newton were 6 when she got them two years ago. They came from an abusive home. Murphy had half his tail cut off, which caused neurological and hip problems. Newton, a feral cat, lived behind the stove for nearly three months before he decided to come out. "We are still taking baby steps, but last week, he allowed me to pet him. I hope he can be a lap cat in six months," she said.
It's hard to say goodbye to any of them, but every once in a while, you lose a soul mate, she said.
She does it because it is the right thing to do, she explained. A kitten will likely get adopted, but the older cats will be put down.
Fusaro agreed, even though the time will come soon when Sunny will break her heart. "I want her time here to be as happy as it can be. I didn't want to open my heart for that kind of pain but how much sadder and more horrible for me would it be to leave her at the shelter. It will be terrible to lose her but much worse to leave her to die alone."