The idea of George Clooney adopting a senior rescue dog may be enough to get you to peruse Laura Coffey’s book “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets With Remarkable Second Acts.”
You’ll keep reading because each of the stories is vivid, inspiring — and surprising in that the dogs do more than their share of the rescuing.
Coffey is taking part in four animal-related sessions at the Tucson Festival of Books, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, March 11-12, at the University of Arizona campus. She kicks off the festival’s second day at the Arizona Daily Star pavilion with her 10 a.m. session, “No Dog Should Die Alone.”
Don’t let the session’s title scare you. It’s really a story of how one person, or dog, can make a difference.
For Coffey, it started with a story.
An award-winning journalist with more than 25 years experience as a reporter, columnist and editor for MSNBC.com (now NBCNews.com), Coffey admitted to being a little nervous about a story she was going to write for the “Today” show’s website.
A photographer named Lori Fusaro had changed her life after adopting an 18-year-old dog named Shady from a crowded Los Angeles shelter.
“They figured she might live a week or two, but instead she lived three years. She thrived in this nice home with other pets,” Coffey said in a telephone interview from Seattle last week.
Fusaro renamed her dog Sunny and started a photography project called “Silver Hearts” to show how much senior pets, who are often the highest-risk population at shelters across the United States, have to offer.
“Week after week she would see that the older animals were never making it out,” Coffey said. “It really weighed on her.”
Coffey admits that she was nervous that a story about senior dogs would be too sad. Instead, it went viral. “I wish I could predict which stories go completely crazy,” she said.
The overwhelming response led to a book deal. Coffey sketched out an idea in which each profile would be different, featuring people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Coffey also wanted to include what people should know when adopting a senior dog. That includes veterinary advice, a resource guide and tips on keeping senior canines mentally and physically engaged. There are also ways people can get involved and help.
Coffey wanted to meet the people and dogs whose stories she’d be writing, so she and Fusaro met in New York and embarked on a road trip to document senior dog success stories.
The profiles include 15-year-old Bretagne, the last known surviving 9/11 search dog from ground zero. A retired police K9 who finally found happiness in retirement with an 8-year-old girl. The lifesaving bond between a black Lab and his former Marine handler in Afghanistan. A rescued senior who led a widow back into life from a deep depression. A 15-year-old golden retriever who lives in an assisted living center with a group of women with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. And many more.
“It turned out to be this great adventure and we met the best people — big-hearted people who care about the underdog,” Coffey said. “The people I met I want to stay friends with the rest of my life because they were so wonderful.”
Tucsonans may be surprised that the foreword — “Please Hold My Paw and Stroke My Ear”— is written by Neko Case, the singer, songwriter and former Tucsonan who now lives in Vermont with a variety of rescued animals, including Liza, the 16-year-old black shepherd mix she adopted from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.
Fusaro is a staff photographer for Best Friends Animal Society, an organization with a no-kill philosophy that resonates with Case.
“She jumped at the opportunity. She was so great about it,” Coffey said of Case’s participation. “She’s just so passionate about helping seniors after adopting Liza.”
“Finding the Good Life” is the section that includes the story “When Einstein Met George Clooney, It Was Love at First Sniff.” Coffey had read in an Esquire interview that Clooney had spotted the 10-year-old stray black cocker spaniel, then in a high-kill shelter, on an online video. Coffey initially asked if Clooney could meet with her for the book, but the actor was in Europe preparing to get married. Then Coffey got the idea to ask his publicist if Einstein had some time for her. “Within 5 minutes he wrote back and said Einstein did have time in his calendar,” she said. Clooney also opened his home to the project. “Who would have guessed he would choose to participate in this but he did,” she said.
“People are really having a light bulb go off and realize its nothing sad or scary,” she said.
“I have yet to meet one person who said they regretted it. It just makes you so happy to provide a home,” Coffey said. “These dogs make your whole life better, maybe in ways you didn’t see coming.”