Since 2012, I have been traveling the country, meeting and photographing senior dogs with the people who love them. I decided to call my series Project Unconditional because of the unconditional love that dogs—especially older dogs—offer us and inspire in return. From the beginning, my aim was to celebrate and capture the power and beauty of these relationships.

Many of the dogs I photograph have shared a lifetime with their people, and the love they share is deep. Initially, adopted senior dogs weren’t part of the project, but that was simply because it hadn’t occurred to me. However, more than two years ago I met and photographed dogs adopted from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, and I realized how much adopted older dogs enrich the lives of their human companions. Since then, senior rescue dogs and their adopters from across the country have become a big part of my project.

Whether the bonds are formed after a decade together or in a brand new adopted relationship, it seems that our connection to older dogs just offers something special. This is just a little of what I’ve learned from senior rescue dogs and their adopters…

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Adopted older dogs help us appreciate life’s simple pleasures

“One day I watched Miriam hobble over to the water bowl to get a drink, and as she drank her tail just wagged, wagged, wagged. She was so happy just drinking water!? She has almost no teeth, so water flies EVERYWHERE when she drinks and it dribbles all down her face. After she finished drinking, she looked up at me—tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, face covered in water, panting from the exhaustion of that little exercise, but she had the biggest pittie smile!  Then she hobbled back to whatever toy she was chewing on and continued about her business. She just makes us smile; her happiness is just contagious!” — Allison Fox. (After fostering Miriam for Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, Allison and her husband decided to adopt Miriam, on Miriam’s 18th birthday!)

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Adopted older dogs are experts at making friends

“Tommy is a total love bug—he always has a smile on his face and he is a love seeking missile when he is at the dog park. He goes up to his human target and sits there to get petted. He paws his targets so they will keep petting him, until he decides to move on to his next target. Because of him I know everyone in my neighborhood.” – Jessica Lo. (Jessica adopted Tommy from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco.)

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Adopted older dogs show us how to meet life’s challenges with grace

“I was not experienced with blind dogs when we brought Marvin home from Old Dog Haven. We were nervous but Marvin was a rock star. He learned the layout of our house within a few days, learned how to use the dog door to the backyard within a few months. We started off with little walks, I would walk backwards and talk to him and he’d follow my voice, we then graduated to doing this routine around the block, then two blocks and then I was able to walk behind him guiding him with the leash and he knows right where to go! He can do a three mile walk no problem. He loves the smells at the beach, loves to walk, loves snacks, loves his yard and is the biggest joy to us on a daily basis.” — Dawn Ford. (Dawn and her husband provide Marvin with a Final Refuge permanent foster home through Old Dog Haven in Washington.)

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Adopted older dogs teach us to embrace the unexpected in life

“When we thought about having a dog, we envisioned long walks on the beach, playing fetch and showing off all our dog’s tricks. Well, Coco hates water, doesn’t know any commands that we know of, and we’re pretty sure she’s never played a game of fetch in her life. But just like many things in life, though she was quite different than we expected, it has been the most pleasant of surprises. Coco is a daily reminder to us that every day is a treasure, that it’s never too late for a second chance, and that sometimes you just have to take a leap in order to reap the best rewards that life has to offer.” — Brian and Katy Bailey. (Brian and Katy adopted Coco Pudding from Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco.)

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Adopted older dogs prove that it’s never too late for happiness

“When Morrie came to me, he was a sad dog. He was emaciated, down-trodden, abandoned and scared. Now he is a happy dog, though. He is loving and gives big wet kisses. People said that I was setting myself up by taking on a senior dog, that it would be heartbreaking in the end, but I see the good in it. He is living a real life with all the comfort, love and attention he could ever want. I saw the sadness and hopelessness in his eyes when he came to me. Now his eyes are clear and bright. Morrie is my friend. He is happy and I am too.”—Vicky Gelfan. (Vicky adopted Morrie from the Thulani Program, a California-based rescue for senior and hospice German Shepherds.)

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