The Landfill Dogs

“The dog’s agenda is simple, fathomable, overt: I want. “I want to go out, come in, eat something, lie here, play with that, kiss you. There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied.” 
― Caroline Knapp

Mistletoe
Mistletoe ~ Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

Not long ago I came across something that really moved me, spoke to me deeply, and inspired me to help something greater than myself.

Shannon Johnstone, an art professor at Meredith College in North Carolina, recently launched the Landfill Dogs project.  Every week she takes one shelter dog on an afternoon outing and photographs him or her playing, frolicking, sniffing, lounging in the grass, and just being a dog at the state landfill where they will end up after they are euthanized. Yes, you heard right.  These dogs are on death row.

So why would someone even care to do this?  Johnstone explains:

These are not just cute pictures of dogs. These are dogs who have been homeless for at least two weeks, and now face euthanasia if they do not find a home. Each week for 18 months (late 2012–early 2014) I bring one dog from the county animal shelter and photograph him/her at the local landfill.

The landfill site is used for two reasons. First, this is where the dogs will end up if they do not find a home. Their bodies will be buried deep in the landfill among our trash. These photographs offer the last opportunity for the dogs to find homes.

The second reason for the landfill location is because the county animal shelter falls under the same management as the landfill. This government structure reflects a societal value; homeless cats and dogs are just another waste stream. However, this landscape offers a metaphor of hope. It is a place of trash that has been transformed into a place of beauty. I hope the viewer also sees the beauty in these homeless, unloved creatures.

As part of this photographic process, each dog receive a car ride, a walk, treats, and about 2 hours of much needed individual attention. 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. This project will continue for one year, so that we can see the landscape change, but the constant stream of dogs remains the same.

Here are a few of Shannon’s images that so beautifully capture the spirit of each dog: 

Momma: Impoundment #68215 Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone
Momma: Impoundment #68215
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
― Mark Twain

Rose: Impoundment #82564 Photo by: Mary Shannon Johnstone
Rose: Impoundment #82564
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Pigpen. Impoundment #85852. He never found a home.
Pigpen. Impoundment #85852.  He never found a home.

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera

Ice Frosting:  Impoundment #82263 Mary Shannon Johnstone
Ice Frosting: Impoundment #82263
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
― Josh Billings

Charo, impoundment #90561. She is still looking for a home. It has been 118 days.This good girl is very busy, likes to keep herself occupied, and LOVES to be around people. She does not miss meals, is extremely treat motivated, already knows "SIT".
Charo, impoundment #90561. She is still looking for a home. It has been 118 days.
This good girl likes to keep herself occupied, and LOVES to be around people. She never misses a meals, is extremely treat motivated, and she already knows “SIT”.    Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion in the only guarantee of morality.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

 

Her images are poignantly beautiful.  Looking at these faces, I can’t help but think about the millions of dogs and cats that end up at landfills all over the world because of factors that we do have direct control over: lack of spaying and neutering, lack of planning and prevention, the endless need that we have to breed more and more dogs to satisfy the desire for a designer dog, or because dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters due to “behavioral problems” – many of which could be prevented with education, proper training, and socializing.  Every dog, cat, or other companion animal that ends up in these landfills is a life that could have been saved from such a fate.

It’s hard to not get emotional looking at this images, knowing the ground that the dogs are standing on, and what their fate will most likely be. But we can help them.

We do have the power to help all companion animals – right in our own backyards – that need our help.  We can speak up for them by sharing their story and their faces.  We can help other animal guardians avoid having to surrender their companion animals to shelters through education and training.  We can stress the importance of microchipping, spaying and neutering every cat and dog!  If someone can’t afford to spay or neuter their animal, we can show them that there are affordable spay and neuter options!  We can speak with our local shelters and ask to volunteer there, or even be a foster mom or dad to animals in need.  We can be an advocate for no-kill shelters and support their never-ending hard work. We can encourage our friends, coworkers, and family members to adopt dogs, cats, birds, etc, that need loving, forever homes, rather than buying from breeders. There are so many ways to prevent this.

These are not “abandoned pets” or “throw-aways”.  They are living beings with a soul. They deserve a life of compassion and mercy. Each one of them has so much love to give, so many lessons to teach us, and ways of opening our hearts so that we may know, feel, and understand unconditional love and acceptance.

Our Hocus Pocus was rescued from a no-kill shelter here in North Carolina.  If it wasn't for Robeson County Humane Society, she would have been one of the Landfill Dogs.
Our Hocus Pocus was rescued from a no-kill shelter here in North Carolina.  Her mother was found pregnant along the  side of the highway during winter.  If it wasn’t for Robeson County Humane Society, Hocus, her mother, and all of her siblings would have all become Landfill Dogs.

Landfill Dogs who are still looking for homes:

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Landfill Dogs is a photographic project to showcase the beautiful souls of the most overlooked dogs, located in Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.  You can read the full story from The Unexamined Dog about Beautiful Animal Advocacy here.  To learn more about Shannon Johnstone’ project visit here.

To see most recent Landfill Dogs – the souls who are still in need of forever homes please see the Landfill Dogs facebook page or visit this gallery.  Landfill Dog Adoption info here!  Please share their story with others!

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” 
― Anatole France

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