Laura Coffey is the best-selling author of “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts,” a book that celebrates the joys of giving homeless senior dogs a second chance. With gorgeous photographs and happy tales of old dogs learning new tricks, “My Old Dog” shows that adopting a senior can be even more rewarding than choosing a younger dog.
We also encourage you to check out The Grey Muzzle Organization.
Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where a goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now on with our show. Laura Coffee is a self avowed dog nut and senior writer, editor and producer for today dot com, the website of NBC’s Today show. She’s more than 25 years of journalism experience and has written and edited hundreds of high profile human interest stories over the years. Laura is also the author of the bestselling nonfiction book My Old Dog Rescued Pets with remarkable Second Acts, My Old Dog Show’s Success Stories that show how Happy Retirement could be for older dogs who get rescued and how life changing senior dog adoption can be for the humans that do the rescuing. Hey, Laura, thanks for coming on today. Oh, thank you so much for having me. So tell us a little bit about you and your background. Well, you know, my background is largely in journalism. I’ve worked in journalism for a long time or go closing in on three decades. Wow! And for years and years I worked in newspapers all around the country. I started out at the ST Petersburg Times, which is now called the Tampa Bay Times in Florida, and then went on to newspapers in Alaska and Seattle. San Diego Prague in the Czech Republic, living overseas for a while. Yeah, and but since, um, 2006 I’ve been working in digital media. I’ve been working for NBC News Online and since 2008 I’ve been working for the Today show’s website today dot com, and I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years. I’ve always joke. I’ve done everything but sports every kind of coverage you can imagine over the years, except for sports, which would be a disaster. But my favorite stories over the years, particularly for today dot com, have involved stories that I’ve written about pets and animal rescue, and it’s just a topic that really seems to resonate with people there. These are stories that touch people’s lives and in a very special way, so I really like that, that particular topic and deserves to come around again and again. For me, that’s really cool. So I mean, is that kind of how you get into animal rescue type activities? I mean, where did you start to learn about this and get really interested? Well, you know, it’s kind of a funny story. I was. I wrote a story for today dot com a few years back about senior dog rescue, specifically about Senior Dog Rescue, and I’ll confess at the time, I didn’t know that much about it, but the the story focused on a really wonderful amazing photographer in Los Angeles named Laurie for sorrow and what she was doing on the weekend. There are photographers around the country who do this. It is such a wonderful thing. But she was going to specifically to Los Angeles County shelters that had high euthanasia rates. And she was volunteering her time on the weekends to take really high quality photographs of the animals in those shelters in order to increase their chances of getting adopted. Because a lot of times for people their first encounter with a pet, they may actually go take the time to visit and possibly adopt would be a photograph that they see on the Internet, right? Yeah, exactly. So she was doing that, and her photos were beautiful. And I wrote the story about her because I saw her photos online. But the thing that once we were talking about it, what struck her was that she I was going to these very overburdened shelters week after week, and she was noticing that the older animals were not getting adopted, like the younger puppies and kittens would get out about Your older pets were not making it out. And it was really weighing on her. And there was this one day that she couldn’t take it. She saw the 16 year old owner surrender pitbull, who was clearly very sick and had all kinds of issues. And she knew this dog. There’s no way anybody was going to adopt this dog and she couldn’t take it. And she decided to take this dog home. She didn’t even discuss it with her husband. Oh, that’s a commitment. She just thought she was goingto love and, you know, shower this dog with affection for maybe a few days, maybe a week or two so that the dog didn’t die alone at the shelter, and so one thing leads to another. This dog named Sonny ended up living with Lori and her husband, Darryl, for almost three years now that thrived when she got out of that, you know, shelter, Kennel, and did such a great job that it made Lori turn her attention to senior trying to help change people’s perceptions of senior shelter animals. And so I wrote the story about Lori, and it went completely viral in a way neither of us ever could have anticipated. It just touched people’s hearts in a way, and it was kind of tapping into something that was on the rise where people are growing awareness of how special older animals could be. Puppies and kittens are great, too. They’re also, you know, puppies could be a lot of work. But older animals often can make such great companions, particularly for people with busy lifestyles. Their amazing So Anyway, I wrote the story, it went completely viral. And then we got contacted by an agent who I thought that this could make a good book. So because of that original story that got picked up all over the world, actually internationally. Um, we ended up working on a book together, and that book is the is called My Old Dog Rescued pets with remarkable second act. And it’s it was a huge adventure. We had so much fun. And Laurie took the photos and I wrote the story. I found you wrote the stories, and it was it was a great experience. Wow, what an interesting, you know, road that that took you started out with just a story that you’re doing for your job. Something that really touched you. But look at where it’s taken you now, right? I know. I can’t believe I still can’t believe it happened. I don’t think Lori can’t either. But we had we called each other. We we referenced each other. As you know, Lucy and Ethel, we just had these crazy adventures all around the country. You know, we went all over the place trying to find really happy success stories of people who had taken in senior shelter animals, and they did this kind, compassionate thing. But then it paid huge dividends in their own lives in all kinds of unexpected ways. And the stories are all very, very different. So they’re not repetitive, you know? But they’re completely different people from their twenties to their eighties. Who did this A really kind thing. And then you can’t believe you just can’t believe how much it improved their lives too. So how did you come about to find these stories? So, I mean, you were contacted by somebody said this would make a great book mean help us through how you guys picked out the stories and where you went? Well, yeah, so I just basically did a lot of old school reporting. I mean, one thing that I did was I contacted a lot of senior specific rescue organizations all around the country, and I asked them for their 5 to 10 you know, greatest success stories like, what are the stories that are so gratifying to them that make it all worthwhile? Why are they so happy that they do what they do? Because I heard the limit him down, wasn’t it? Exactly exactly. It really was. And then I would like they would kind of give me a summary of some of their best best stories, and I would consider them all and think of which one would resonate with the most people and or which one was really different from other stories we already had and then contact these people. And so I did a lot of, you know, pre reporting and pre interviewing over the phone and we wanted. We knew we wanted a a great range of ages and socioeconomic levels and regions of the country just to show anyone can do this. It does not matter who you are. You could be very unjust. Starting out in your career, you could be retired, and you could be, um, any economic level and make this possible. And then along the way, I, you know, was kind of thinking, Wouldn’t it be great to have a few well known people who have done this to have in the mix with mostly just ordinary people who, um, took in a senior dog on Dhe? So I started looking around on the Internet and figuring stuff out, putting things together, and it turns out that some very well known people wanted to participate in this book. I mean, it just it this whole community rallied around it because the topic was just it was the time for this topic. People were really getting it. It was really clicking that, um, older animals can be the best friends. Take a certain place at a certain point in your life. And then there’s two. I mean, they’re often already house trained. They’re calmer than puppies are a little less rambunctious. They’re kind of turnkey, ready to go. You know, pets. You can jump right to that golden age. And so wait, what? I started kind of sleuthing around. It turns out that George Clooney wanted to be in the book. He participated in the book. We have a a really charming and funny story about his, um, adoption of a rescued cocker spaniel named Einstein. It’s hilarious really, really funny. And, you know, it s o that happened. We have the Nordstrom’s in there, you know, the North’s from retail chain. Yeah, the the Bruce and Jeannie Nordstrom. You can’t believe what they’ve done over the years for animal rescue. And it’s just an epic story of, and you just love them and see how hands on they are in rescue themselves and what they’ve done specifically for senior animals. And, um, you know, are you familiar with humans of New York? It’s a very, very popular ah site and and, you know, Facebook Page and a huge online presence. But the founder of humans of New York is in the book. You see his adoption of, Ah, little dog named Susie, who is the inspiration for Susie Senior Dogs, which is, Ah, very well known excellent Facebook page that connects people with senior adoptable senior dogs all around the country. There are, you know, way had a lot of people who wanted to be in it, and so it just all kind of clicked and fell into place. Dr. Marty Becker He’s a veterinarian, very well known, experienced veterinarian and author. He wrote some health care tips for the just specifically for senior dogs and his daughter Raquel Becker. She’s a very accomplished animal trainer and behaviorist. She wrote some really good tips to keep on older dog stimulated and happy and, you know, not bored and the tips are great. And so I mean, all these people just came out of the woodwork and we’re wanted to be in the book. It’s all worked out. Yeah, so now you get to travel across the country than to meet these people and to get their stories. And the photos? Yes, exactly. And this was the thing. Like, we really knew that we needed and wanted toa eyewitness everything that make sure, you know, just going me, everyone in person and see the dogs homes and see where the where the dogs landed, you know, after they got sprung from the shelter. And so, um, Laurie and I it’s kind of funny because we had talk to each other over the phone when I wrote that initial story about her. But we had never met in person and are weak. We want it doing several road trips together. But the 1st 1 we met up in New York, so she I I live in Seattle. So I flew to New York from Seattle and she flew from Los Angeles. And we, um, met in person, you know, basically, for the first time, and we’re thinking, Boy, I sure hope we like you. Janet’s gonna say, if you’re gonna drive it on the country together. So this is the start of the crazy madcap adventure. But, you know, we hugged and rented a car and went on an eight day road trip together, and it just worked out really, really well. And then, you know, we had other trips to other regions of the country. We tried to coordinate it by region to make it that it is efficient as possible. But, you know, we met up in Florida. We met up in California and the Pacific Northwest. We had a Pacific Northwest section we had. And then there’s the middle of the country. Way just had these different story is kind of, uh, materialize. We wanted that Nice variety. Very cool. So now were there any particular stories in this that you know, really touched your heart? Well, you know, so many of them did. One thing I want to stress about the my old Dog book is that it’s very, very happy, like people think Oh, no, A dog. A book about senior dogs. It’s gonna make me cry. I don’t want to look at that. And it’s like No, no, no, actually won’t. It won’t. If it does, it’ll be happened. These will be happy tears because you are so happy for everyone involved. You’re so happy for the rescue pet in each story and you’re so happy for the person who did the rescuing because you see how happy it made them. And the stories run the gamut from there. There are some that are a little bit more emotional in nature because you have, you know, people who are going through major life transitions and really needed to bond with that pet that particular pet needed to come into that person’s life. Right then there’s a very moving story about a widow who had just, very suddenly lost her husband of 43 years. It was very unexpected and sudden, and she was having a very difficult time coping with anxiety and depression and could not pull herself out of it. And her adult Children didn’t live near her. But they could tell that she was not doing well, and she was not taking very good care of herself. She wasn’t leaving her house at all, and one thing led to another, and they her daughter visited her and helped her connect with Mudville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, which is a wonderful, wonderful organization. Mudville is great, and so they have a flagship Seniors for Seniors program that many many shelters and rescue organizations around the country have this now. So through the seniors for seniors program, they kind of match energy levels. You know, you take a calmer, less rambunctious older dog and place it with a person who doesn’t really want to deal with the rambunctious puppy, and they often get make a really great fit. So she this woman adopted this little dog named Matty, and it wasn’t like everything magically, you know, turned great instantly. But by the time this dog, um uh, what what it was was like a catalyst for the woman also named Maddie instead. Interestingly so Matty and Matty, it was a catalyst for her to start living her life again. And she, um, started getting herself together because she knew she needed to take the dog on walks. And then those walks ended up connecting her with her neighbors in different ways. And because this little dog, adorable little dog was a people magnet and that had her to start to interact with people more in a way that she had not been and which is obviously hugely beneficial. Um, And then one thing leads to another and she befriends one neighbor who then invites her on a day cruise. And and then she meets more people. It meets more people, and by the time we connect with her, the story is so happy because she is, you know, training with a personal trainer once, multiple times a week, she’s taking line dancing lessons. She’s voluntary, get a women’s jail. She takes the dog on big long walks all over the place. And she she has this whole, you know, rich, meaningful life that she credits to her little adopted senior dog, Maddie, for getting her out the door and helping her start connect with connecting with people again. So stories like that, you know, you you’re just so happy for everyone. The power of the love of a dog that could could get someone to start engaging and living again. Ah, lot of the other stories that are very, very funny. Um, the George Clooney story is hilarious. Hey, tell, he said, that he was so nervous when he met Einstein. He was worried that Einstein wouldn’t like him things black cocker spaniel who’s insanely food focused. So he said that he was so worried that when the women from the rescue organization Camp Cocker Rescue. We’re coming to his house. They had cautioned him that if Einstein doesn’t like you, we’re not leaving it with yeah, George Clooney, he said. He ran to his refrigerator and he found some turkey meatballs and he rubbed them on his shoes before Einstein came into the house and I ran right to him and the women were like, We’ve never seen you don’t like this with anyone anyway. It’s really and there’s more. There’s all kinds of funny details about that, that first day with Einstein, and it’s really charming and makes you love George Clooney even more there and everything in between. You know, there’s so many stories I could go on and on. I should probably stop talking for a bit. That’s really cool, though, that you know that he was so passionate and he wanted to be in this book and share his story. Um, that must have been really uplifting for you guys as well. Yes, we were so grateful for that. I mean, it would have been so easy to say no, but it worked out. We were, you know, able to do a big photo shoot with Einstein and Laura. You should have. It was such a funny day, Lorry. With her photography, she always has dog treats and dog noisemaker, little fun noisemakers and all these tricks to get the dog to look at the camera. Look right up. And, you know, she captures their personality, captures the dogs, you know, faces in these really beautiful just such a beautiful way. So anyway, she Einstein figured out that she had treats in her photo, her camera bag, and he just like nose dived in there just trying to get everything. He was very, very food focused. Sound like wiggle, but dog. Yes, very cool. So now you’ve now continued on with senior dogs, and now you’re actually a part of, ah, of an organization? Well, yes. You know, I have, um, been involved now for several years with the grain muzzle organization. The great muzzle organization is a wonderful group. This is a group that actually offers grant money to successful senior dog rescue programs. All across the United States, thes programs sometimes existed shelters. Sometimes they’re just specific rescue groups. But what they do that’s so good about the great muscle organization is they really that the programs and make sure they’re successful Make sure that the money that, um, the grant money is going specifically to senior dogs who need the help. And so I’m on their advisory board, and I’m very, very grateful to be part of that. I’m also on the advisory board of the Pet Philanthropy Circle and and another nice organization, You know, for people who write about this, like, I do love the topic and care about animals and write about dogs and love dogs. I’m the vice president of the Dog Writers Association of America and the Dog Writers Association is a really fun group of writers because, you know, dog people tend to be really nice people. All right, I got along really well with a lot of fun. That’s really neat. So now this has kind of become a passion for you. Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s something. I really think that I will always have an older dog in my home and, you know, just to clarify to for people who think I don’t know if I could do that, I don’t know if my heart could take it. It’s what one thing I learned. You know, working on the book is that veterinarians will describe a dog as senior if the dog is six years old. If it’s a large breed breed dog, so six for a large breed dog and seven years old for a small breed dog. And as we all know, you know people who love pets and had animals. I mean, six and seven is not that old. For these dogs can often surprise you. They often live much longer then you might expect, particularly when they feel safe and secure. And they are, uh, in a good place where they know they’re wanted. Once they get to decompress from the shelter on DSO, it ends up being. You could have years and years of adventure ahead with this new friend and family member. They just will be maybe a little bit easier. It might be the easier adaptation than than a puppy again, not knocking puppies. I know some people really, really want to do that, but it’s just interesting to at least have the idea in mind that there is another option. You don’t have to get a puppy, you know you can go and find even even a more like doing air quotes here. But, um, or middle aged dog four or five, um might be overlooked at a shelter and and or even from a rescue group. Yeah, So there are these opportunities to give a dog a KN option where he or she may not have had an option. And you, if there’s something so incredibly meaningful about knowing you made that difference in the animal’s life and gave that that, you know, sweet, A new family member, a place to go when he may be here, she wouldn’t have had a place to go. Yeah, one of things I really liked about this book as well as in addition, of the great stories and pictures, you spend a lot of time and focus on trying to provide. Resource is down to the state level. Different types of organizations tell us a little bit about that. Yes, so the mild dog book at the In the back of the book, there’s this. The thought is very small and its many, many, many pages. There’s a resource guide in the back that state by state so that you can see, you know, senior specific rescue efforts in your community, and you can also see if there isn’t enough a program like that in your community and maybe help get one started because you know many shelters, though I would highly recommend even, you know, no matter where you live, check with your shelter because many of them now have really innovative, smart programs to make it easier for people to adopt a senior dog s. Oh, it’s just so inspiring to me to see how much is happening. And the programs are so smart. There are, you know, they’re they’re success. They’re doing really well. I mean, there are I mentioned the seniors for seniors programs, but there are a lot of forever foster programs, too. So basically, you know, many people think of fostering an animal. You think, Well, I’ll have the animal for maybe a few weeks, or maybe a few months until it finds a permanent home. But there are many, many, many permanent foster opportunities for older dogs, where, as long as you’re willing to open your home to the animal, then you’re the rescue group or the shelter will continue to pay for the dogs veterinary care until the end of its life, which that takes away a lot of the concern people may have about the cost right, because it’s definitely true in older dogs can require a lot of veterinary care, and it and that’s a very valid and very reasonable concern. But there are all these ways around it now to make it just easier to get the dog into home into a family situation where the dog is safe and secure and not stressed and disoriented in a kennel. So it’s, um, very exciting to see what’s happening, a lot of good programs going on and, you know, the great muscle organization. That grant giving organization that I mentioned is constantly on the prowl, looking for good programs like this to support. You know, it’s ironic that you and I were talking right now because next month is actually adopt a senior pet month, isn’t it? Yes, it is. November is adopted, seen your pet month, and that is a very exciting time. Lori Lori Pizarro and I get very excited every every November, but it started in 2005. The S P C a and petfinder dot com designated designated November as adopted in your pet month and it was trying. It was one of the Colonel’s into the beginning of this idea of trying to get older animals out of the show out of shelter settings, you know, because they needed it. They were really being overlooked. Then, you know, back in that era, you know, 2000 for 2005. I mean, it was very, very uncommon for anyone to adopt a senior dog. And now it’s turned into something that is much more common. People will walk into shelters and ask for an older dog or special needs dog and all of these kinds of things, because they people have kind of caught on to, um, how wonderful it can be and how meaningful it could be and how happy it can make you. Uh, yeah, absolutely Well, I want to make sure to give you an opportunity. Can you tell people howto find the book? Learn more about it. How to connect with you? Yes. So you know the Mild Dog book. It’s available pretty much anywhere. Books are sold. It’s definitely on Amazon, and you know dot com and Barnes and noble dot com and all those websites but we have a book website. It’s my old dog book dot com, Um, again, my old dog book dot com. And through there you can see how to contact us and connect with us personally. And then we also have a Facebook page, a very nice Facebook community. And on Facebook, it’s my old dog. Um, so you you know, you can find us there and connect with us. There is, well, a message us. And, you know, we love to see your photos of your dogs And here, a success story in here about, you know, your, uh, anyone who loves senior dogs. And it’s a nice Facebook page to know about. So I have to ask, is there gonna be a volume two planned in the future? You know, we are asked that a lot. Lori and I are joke is often that we’re going to do my old cat. My son wants me to do my old hamster because we have Yeah, is you could imagine my Sunday night. We we have Yeah, we had a hamster that we’ve really bonded with anyway. But I don’t right this minute. No, but I would never rule out anything, because again, the topic is just such a wonderful topic. And it’s been very gratifying to see how many people are really realizing that these wonderful older dogs deserve a second chance. They really should be in a nice family. You know, homes home, like home setting. Um, for their twilight years. Absolutely, absolutely. Well, Laura, thank you so much for coming on today. Think the book is amazing. I’m really appreciate what you did. Is there anything else you wanted to share before we wrap things up? You know, I think we’ve pretty much covered everything. You know, just I’m trying to think of anything else, E I feel like I might be preaching to the choir a little bit, but about, you know, these older dogs who, um, you know, just in case anyone thinks that it would be too sad to have to say goodbye to a dog too soon. You know, 11 thing I will say is that Laurie and I met dozens of people now. I mean, we’ve met now, we’re probably at this point going on hundreds of people who have done this kind of compassionate thing, you know, they’ve taken in an older, um, shelter animal. And given that older animal a second chance, and we have not met one person who regretted doing it, no one ever regrets doing it because you see what a huge difference you’ve made in the life of this dog who needed a place to go. And it’s of course. Of course. It’s true that it’s always awful and terrible and sad to have to say good bye, Dora Pets. It’s one of the hardest parts of about, you know having pets is that they don’t live a CZ, long as we would like them to live. But there’s something about being involved in senior dog rescue, where, as hard as it will, it will be to say goodbye, even at that hardest point taking in the older pet. Knowing that you’ve made such a difference, it sort of takes a little bit of the sting out of that hardest, hardest part of having a pet because you know what you did for that animal. And you know how happy that animal was right up to the very end of it, of his or her life. So and if you hadn’t done that, where what would have happened. You know, the dog would have died alone and scared in a shelter. It’s kind of unthinkable, right? S o it makes you, um even at the most awful day you can, you can imagine it makes you happy and gratified. And you feel some joy because, you know, you did the right thing very well said, Well, thank you, Laura, for coming out. It was great to talk to you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, joined the Air p A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.