Landfill Dogs: Photographer’s Portraits Save Unwanted Shelter Dogs

As skeptics by nature, many times we refuse to believe something until we’ve seen it. This tendency creates numerous societal problems, but it also gives visual art forms like photography the power and potency to cause social change.

Shannon Johnstone, a professor and photographer from North Carolina, seeks to do just that through her current animal portrait project called Landfill Dogs. While people usually turn a blind eye to issues such as pet overpopulation, Johnstone’s portraits of unwanted shelter dogs in danger of euthanasia set the issue at the forefront by highlighting the dogs’ personalities, needs, and desires as being not unlike our own.

Each photograph is a desperate plea for a life:

landfill dogs shannon johnstone pit bull dog

Rose. (Shannon Johnstone)

“These are not just cute pictures of dogs,” Johnstone said. “My goal is to offer an individual face to the souls that are lost because of animal overpopulation, and give these animals one last chance.”

Every week, Johnstone visits the Wake County Animal Shelter and chooses one dog to pamper with attention, exercise, treats and a portrait session at the local landfill, where the overwhelmingly constant stream of homeless animals considered worthless by society—especially dogs of so-called aggressive breeds—can be compared to mountains of trash and other discarded rubble.

At the same time, the lovely hillside landscape around the landfill is a symbol of hope as well as the beauty to be discovered by those who are willing to look into the eyes of a homeless dog and see themselves.

animal shelter euthanasia pit mix

Momma. (Shannon Johnstone)

unwanted dog shelter pit bull terrier

Pigpen. (Shannon Johnstone)

landfill dog homeless pet terrier

Tickles. (Shannon Johnstone)

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Ciara. (Shannon Johnstone)

“To date I have photographed 59 dogs,” Johnstone told PictureCorrect. “Only 3 Landfill Dogs have been euthanized, which is remarkable considering the average euthanasia rate for dogs at this shelter is roughly 30% (2013 YTD).”

Johnstone originally intended to use a large format 4×5” field camera or a medium format Rolliecord twin lens camera to photograph the dogs, but she quickly realized that the Canon 5D Mark II with an accompanying EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens allowed her the most flexibility in working with the dogs’ shorter attention spans.

“I decided that I needed to work with the dog, instead of getting the dog to work with me,” Johnstone said. “The DSLR makes that very easy.”

The Landfill Dogs project will continue through 2014. To see more photos, including updated photos of Landfill Dogs still currently up for adoption, check out the project’s Facebook page.

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