For our i Love Pit Bulls breed spotlight this month, we are reposting this story about photographer Lori Fusaro that was originally published on i Love Dogs in November 2009.
Since then, Fusaro has been busy with new projects. Some of her photos will be included in the 2012 Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar, and she is now a member of HeARTs Speak, a group of artists working together to promote more understanding for shelter animals.
Lori Fusaro doesn’t mind getting down in the dirt and playing with her models. She will take her time on a photo shoot so she can capture the joyful essence of her subjects.
Fusaro has a knack for bringing out the playful, happy side of homeless dogs who might otherwise look unappealing in other pictures. The Southern California portrait photographer usually charges hundreds of dollars for a shoot. But she does pro-bono work for dog rescue groups. She snaps flattering portraits of pooches in hopes of attracting pet parents for them.
Fusaro began offering her services about four years ago, after browsing photos of dogs on Petfinder.com. Many photos showed scared-looking dogs with red eyes.
“As a photographer I can overlook that stuff,” Fusaro said. “But the average person might pass these dogs right up because they aren’t being shown in a good way. I try to help the dogs look beautiful.”
One of her first models was Ranger Red, a big, energetic Lab mix who had lived at Karma Rescue the longest. Sometime later, Fusaro was at her veterinarian’s office when she saw a large, red dog. Fusaro petted the pooch, and he responded by wagging his tail and licking her face. When Fusaro mentioned how much the dog resembled Ranger, a man said he actually was Ranger – he had adopted the mutt after seeing a photo of him taken by Fusaro.
Some canine models gripped Fusaro’s heart. One of them was Jazz, a black Pit Bull and former bait dog who was a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Before Jazz came to Karma Rescue, he was left chained in the water as the hurricane churned. Scars marred Jazz’s face, and mange caused patches of fur to fall out, leaving his skin inflamed.
Jazz craved attention, but not many people wanted to touch him because of his appearance. Even Fusaro was reluctant to walk him because she didn’t want to spread his mange to her pets. But when she heard Jazz went a month without a walk, she immediately lavished adoration on him.
Fusaro photographed Jazz, showing his soulful eyes pleading for love from his mottled face. She documented Jazz’s recovery and put the pictures in a book. She presented that book to Jazz’s new owners.
“Now (Jazz) is spoiled rotten with two or three doggy brothers and sisters,” Fusaro said.
Before she started her volunteer work, Fusaro feared Pit Bulls because of the horror stories she heard about them. But the ones she met broke stereotypes. Among them was Gabby, a brindle Pit Bull who Fusaro fostered, then later adopted.
“It’s so sad they get a bad rap, because they’re so sweet,” Fusaro said. “I did some research about the breed, and I found they make good fighting dogs because they are so loyal and love their masters so much that they do anything to please them, even getting hurt.”
In Fusaro’s photographs, pit bulls are grinning ear to floppy ear and the light dances in their eyes. Fusaro doesn’t care how long it takes to get the perfect pose and has never met a nervous pooch.
Fusaro recently shot portraits to raise $400 for Barks of Love in Orange County. She became involved with the organization after she found a neglected puppy and looked for a rescue group that could take the pooch in. Her Pit Bull pictures will be featured in the Pinups for Pups calendar which donates proceeds to rescue groups.
The photographer hails from a line of animal lovers. Her grandparents adopted stray dogs and horses scheduled for slaughter, and her father adopted shelter dogs. Fusaro also performs other volunteer work for animal rescue groups.
She encourages her photographer friends to donate their services to animal rescue groups, and has noticed more photographers volunteering. The free sessions are valuable because it draws potential adopters, and money is often tight with rescue groups.
“My regular fee is $250,” Fusaro said. “They wouldn’t be able to pay that. That’s a spay or neuter fee for an animal. That’s a month of boarding.”
PHOTOS: Lori Fusaro