1. News

Former Largo resident writes for the dogs

Former bay area journalist Laura Coffey is the author.
Published Jan. 14, 2016

Laura Coffey, a former journalist with the Tampa Bay Times and Largo High's 1988 valedictorian, returned to Seattle from Florida after her mother's funeral. It was June 2013.

Still in mourning, she went back to her work for the website, the portal for the Today Show. One of her regular readers had sent her an email urging her to look into a story on a California photographer involved with rescuing senior dogs from shelters.

"I was hesitant, but I remember this reader told me, 'Seriously, do this. It is a direct connection between people and animals,' '' Coffey recalled during a recent phone interview.

Coffey looked up the photos and considered them both beautiful and sad. Her first thought was to protect herself from more grief, but she pursued the story anyway.

She contacted the photographer, Lori Fusaro, in Culver City, Calif. She learned Fusaro herself had adopted an older dog from an overburdened animal shelter in Carson, Calif. The 16-year-old dog was named Shady. When Fusaro got him home, she renamed her Sunny.

"Their connection was so profound, and she was committed to changing the perception of older, shelter animals. She was the real deal,'' Coffey said. "I approached the story by writing about her.''

It went viral. The women heard from dog lovers across the country and beyond. The Associated Press wrote its own version of the story. After NBC Nightly News aired a segment on Sunny, correspondent Jill Rappaport won a Humane Society Genesis Award.

Fast-forward 2 ½ years. Coffey and Fusaro have seen the release of My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts. With Coffey's words and Fusaro's photos, the book includes 19 profiles of shelter dogs once considered past their prime and the adopting humans who knew better.

There's Chaney, a retired military dog, and Matt Hatala, a former marine. The pair had worked together in Afghanistan until 2011 when Hatala came back to the United States. In 2013, they were reunited in North Carolina at a time when Hatala, who was suffering from post traumatic stress, desperately needed his canine friend.

There's Casey, a vocal, 100-pound senior with weak legs, and her adopted owners, Jeannie and Bruce Nordstrom, the retired chairman of the upscale retail chain. Adopted through the Seattle Humane Society, Casey spends her days on the 15th floor of a condominium overlooking Pike Place Market. Along with the sweeping view, her home is equipped with fresh sod for her necessary potty breaks.

There's Einstein, George Clooney's adopted black cocker spaniel with chronic dry eyes and a thyroid condition who tried to eat his way through the star's Studio City kitchen on his first visit but charmed him anyway.

The book project came to be soon after that first, viral story. A New York agent contacted Fusaro, proposing a project; however, the agent encouraged her to include stories along with photos.

"Without hesitation, I knew exactly who I wanted to ask, Laura,'' Fusaro said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "She was the first reporter to believe in me and the idea and without her, none of this would have happened. She was truly the catalyst for what would become My Old Dog.''

Coffey, whose resume includes writing and editing stints at the Tampa Bay Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Prague Post in the Czech Republic and the Peninsula Clarion in Alaska, was thrilled.

"It was exciting, I learned a lot through the process. We had to put a book proposal together, and I learned it was much like putting a business plan together,'' she said. "We had to propose an idea and determine a market, and you know, there is this whole awareness, a senior dog rescue movement, that is quite big out there, that did not exist a decade ago.''

There were a few stressful moments. One of the most peculiar was when they realized they would meet in person for the first time when they would start a trek through the Northeast to interview owners and take photos of dogs.

"I was a little nervous about that,'' admitted Coffey. "But we really hit it off right away.''

"I am a total homebody and very shy, so I was a tad worried,'' Fusaro said. "But on our journey a lot of funny things happened. We started jokingly referring to each other as Lucy and Ethel, from the I Love Lucy show. . . It just wouldn't have been the same with anyone else."

Contact Piper Castillo at Follow @Florida_PBJC.


  1. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  2. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  3. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  4. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  5. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  6. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  7. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  8. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  9. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
  10. Evangeline Cummings posted a video on Twitter of what appears to be a wasp stinging a coral snake that was dangling from a branch attempting to eat a dead snake. Evangeline Cummings/Twitter
    A coral snake found that out the hard way and a Florida woman caught it all on camera.