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 ~ 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

Stray Cat Strut

Lil Alley Cat by Rachel K Schlueter
Lil Alley Cat by Rachel K Schlueter
Black and orange stray cat sittin’ on a fence
Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent
I’m flat broke but I don’t care
I strut right by with my tail in the air
Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies’ cat,
A feline Casanova, hey man, thats where its at
Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man
Get my dinner from a garbage can
Yeah don’t cross my path!
I don’t bother chasing mice around
I slink down the alley looking for a fight
Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night
Singin’ the blues while the lady cats cry,
“Wild stray cat, you’re a real gone guy.”
I wish I could be as carefree and wild,
but I got cat class and I got cat style.
~Stray Cat Strut by The Stray Cats, 1981


Today, October 16, is National Feral Cat day.  Many years ago I fell madly, deeply in love with two feral cats.  Both of whom, during separate chapters in my life, taught me more than I could have ever imaged about stray cats.  Although we have said our goodbyes, they are still with me in my heart, and they are the inspiration behind this post.

My hope is that you will learn something new here, and in the process, gain compassion for these wise, street savvy souls.  Once we truly understand the myths (and truths) about feral cats and their communities, we can educate others on the many ways to care for and protect these very misunderstood animals.

Samantha, our beloved feline family member, who was once a feral cat on the streets of New Orleans.

Myths and Truths About Feral Cats


Myth #1:  Feral cats are best cared for in animal shelters.

Fact: Adult feral cats are euthanized more frequently than any other dog or cat (this includes adult dogs, bully breeds, fearful and aggressive cats, aggressive and fearful dogs, and heartworm positive dogs).

Shelter life is incredibly stressful for any animal. Throw in a few sprinkles of feral, and you have a recipe for an all-out-fear fest.  Since feral cats are naturally afraid of humans, they are rarely adoptable, so the majority of  feral cats who enter shelters are euthanized quickly — even though 99 percent of these feral cats have no debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.

Even no-kill shelters can’t place feral cats in the average home.  However, feral kittens can often be adopted into homes, but they must be socialized at an early age.  There is a crucial window, and if they aren’t handled in time, they will remain feral and therefore unadoptable. Learn more about feral kittens and socialization here.


Myth #2: TNR is cruel.

TNR is the practice of Trapping, Neutering, and Returning cats back to where one found them. TNR has been shown to be the least expensive, most efficient, and most humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations.  The very best thing we can do for a feral cat is to spay or neuter it, then return it to its original community.


Myth #3: Feral cats are sick.

Feral cats are just as healthy as your own companion cat, with equally low rates of disease, and equally long natural lifespans.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that of 103,643 stray and feral cats examined in spay/neuter clinics in six states from 1993 to 2004, less than 1% of those cats needed to be euthanized due to debilitating conditions, trauma, or infectious diseases.


Myth #4: Cat overpopulation can be fixed by removing the feral colony.

Neighborhoods and communities will often roundup colonies of feral cats – either for euthanasia, or to relocate them, but neither of these choices are a permanent or humane solution.  The reality is that it’s impossible to catch all of the cats, and it only takes one male and one female to begin reproducing again.  Even if all ferals are removed, new cats will soon move in and take their place.

Relocation should only be an option when the cats’ lives are at extreme risk, and then responsible relocation practices should be followed.


Myth #5: Anyone can socialize a feral cat with a lot of time and patience!

Feral cats survive by avoiding intimate human interaction.  Socializing a feral cat can take years sometimes. Trust me; it took me a year to even touch my beloved Samantha when she was a feral cat.  If you have a feral cat outside your home that you want to befriend, I recommend learning more about feral cat socializing from the the experts.


Myth #6:  Shelters are a huge help for lost cats that are found!

Fact:  Only 2 to 5% of lost cats in U.S. shelters are reclaimed by their owners.
Fact:  Most lost cats will eventually return home on their own.
Fact:  Spending time in a shelter actually decreases a cat’s chances of being reunited with his/her guardians.

One of the easiest and most important things you can do for your cat (or feral cat that is living under your care) is give him/her a proper ID tag, AND have your cat microchipped!  This means that wherever they wind up, they can be identified.


Myth #7:  Feral Cats are decimating native wildlife and bird populations! 

Many people dislike the idea of stray cats, but science has cleared them of the blame for impacting wildlife populations.  The true threat to other species are human activities such as habitat destruction, fragmentation, pollution and encroachment.  Outdoor cats occasionally kill birds and other wildlife, but the bigger truth that we need to recognize is this: humans are the species that have most significantly damaged the environment, habitats, and ecosystems.

“The clear leading animal that’s really putting wildlife at risk is the human population.  We just don’t like to acknowledge that it is our fault. It’s not a case of the cat being the worst offender.  It isn’t even remotely the worst offender.  It’s us.”- Wildlife Biologist, Roger Tabor, one of the world’s leading experts on feral cats

Read more about How Much of an Impact Cats really Have on Native Wildlife.

Myth #8: Feral Cats are “homeless” cats

Feral cats are not homeless.  They have a home; it’s outdoors!  Feral cats are no more “homeless” than squirrels, raccoons, or rabbits; their community is their home.  It’s where they learned to live, adapt, and thrive — often with help from a compassionate caretaker.  The outdoors is the natural habitat for feral cats.


Feral Cats and Stray Cats – What They Really Need

Outdoor cats have existed alongside humans for 10,000 years.  They are not a new phenomenon.  Feral cats and stray cats (yes, there is a difference) live and thrive in every landscape, from the inner city to rural farmland.  Although they greatly appreciate a delicious can of tuna, they don’t want to snuggle with you on your couch.  It’s important to recognize and respect that they belong outside, vaccinated, spayed and neutered.  Feral cats are members of the same species as companion cats.  This is why feral cats are protected under state animal anti-cruelty laws. Just like our feline family members who live indoors with us, shelter, food, and water are especially important to feral and stray cats in cold weather!

"Mama Cat" and her kittens.  Mama Cat was a feral cat that lived around my house in New Orleans. I TNR (spayed and released) her and then spayed and neutered her kittens and found homes for most of them.  I loved her so much.
“Mama Cat” and her kittens, one of whom lives with us now.  Mama Cat was a feral cat that lived around my house in New Orleans. I spayed and released her, then spayed and neutered her kittens and found homes for all of them.  I loved her so much, but I knew she could never live an “indoor life”.  I did what was best for her by allowing her to live outside, vaccinated, and spayed.

Cats are a Natural Part of the Landscape.

Cats have always been a part of the natural environment.  They have adapted to the changes that humans brought about in their environment, but their biological instincts and interactions with their surroundings haven’t changed.  What has changed in the last 10,000 years is how humans have impacted the environment. Our unrestrained use of natural resources has damaged crucial habitats and resources that species need to survive.  Instead pointing the finger of blame at wild felines, we need to take a hard look at what we can do to change the way we impact our world and the animals we share it with.

Feral Cats Belong Outdoors. They have been along side humans for 10,000 years. We can help them by spaying and neutering them, then leaving them be.
Feral Cats Belong Outdoors. They have been along side humans for 10,000 years. We can help them by spaying and neutering them, then leaving them be.

Why Should We Even Care?

Today, On National Feral Cat Day, we celebrate the growing movement to protect the lives of outdoor cats with humane and effective programs like Trap- Neuter-Return (TNR). ~ Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies.


In the video below Jackson Galaxy reminds us that:

  • Feral cats are not socialized to people.
  • Feral cats cannot be adopted.
  • TNR helps reduce the number of cats being killed in our shelters each year.
  • More than 330 local governments have ended ‘catch and kill’ and embraced TNR, but there is still much more work to be done.



Common Questions about Feral and Stray Cats




What is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)?

Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane and effective approach for stray and feral cats.  It has been in practice for decades in the U.S. after scientific studies in Europe show that Trap-Neuter-Return improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.

Did you know that TNR:

TNR (Trap & Neuter Return)
A Conscious Companion doing a TNR (Trap & Neuter Return)

Informing friends, neighbors, and family members, about the benefits of TNR can be tough.  There are so many misperceptions about stray cats and feral cats. But Alley Cat Allies has a great resource on their website called Troubleshooting with Community Members.

In this Alley Cat Allies PSA,  Jackson Galaxy explains why National Feral Cat Day® is the perfect time to raise your voice to protect the cats you love—indoors, outdoors, and everywhere in between.  We can educate people about feral cats, how to help them, and what not to do.  Please help to spread the word that TNR is the humane approach for feral cats.  Do you have any experience with stray cats or feral cats? I would love to hear your stories!

coraline-cat-stray-cats-feral-cat_stray cat strut

“What’s your name?” Coraline asked the cat.

“Look, I’m Coraline.Okay?”

“Cats don’t have names.” he said.

“No?” said Coraline.

“No,” said the cat. “Now you people have names.  That’s because you don’t know who you are.  We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline


Matthew Bershadker – President & CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Free Feline Resources!




World Animal Day is for anyone who loves animals

A cow’s “moo” has a different accent depending on what region they originate from.  Goats have accents just like we do.  Bats always turn left when they fly out of a cave.  Zebras are actually white with black stripes.  Flamingos can only eat when their heads are upside down.  Dolphins make a unique signature whistle that describes its individual identity. And a duck’s quack never echoes, anywhere, but no one really knows why!  These are just a few of the million amazing animal facts – facts that prove just how incredible and unique animals are.  Their presence on this planet enriches our own individual human journey through life.

There are a lot of things in the world that threaten the future of animals that call this planet home.  Everyday, natural resources are being misused, wetlands and forests are being destroyed for new cities to be built, and habitats are being fragmented for roadways.  Harmful species are being introduced into ecosystems they do not belong in, and illegal wildlife trade and poaching are wiping out entire populations of animals.  It’s estimated that nine percent of all species become extinct every million years; one and five species go extinct every year.  This rate of extinction has sped up five times in the Earth’s history.  As human beings, we are neighbors, roommates, and friends to these creatures, and it’s our responsibility to help protect them so that their future generations can grow and thrive, and, in turn, our future generations can be blessed with the joy of sharing their lives with them too.

World Animal Day began in 1931 as a way to highlight the plight of endangered species. This day has since evolved into a day to honor all the animals of the world, regardless of the celebrators nationality, religion, faith, or political beliefs.

Why We Celebrate World Animal Day Every Day

  • To celebrate animal life in all its forms
  • To celebrate humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom
  • To acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives – from being our companions, supporting and helping us, to bringing a sense of wonder into our lives
  • To acknowledge and be thankful for the way in which animals enrich our lives


World Animal Day was started in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species.  October 4 was chosen as World Animal Day because it is the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment
St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment

Since then, World Animal Day has become a day for remembering and paying tribute to all animals and the people who love and respect them. It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, with no regard to nationality, religion, faith or political ideology.

The online World Animal Day event was launched in 2003 by Naturewatch and the number of events taking place throughout the world has increased each year. They hope that with your help this trend will continue.

That is the aim of the World Animal Day initiative: to encourage everyone to use this special day to commemorate their love and respect for animals by doing something special to highlight their importance in the world.  Increased awareness will lead the way to improved standards of animal welfare throughout the world.

Building the World Animal Day initiative is a wonderful way to unite the animal welfare movement and something that everyone can join in with whether they are part of an organization, group, or as an individual.  Through education we can help create a new culture of respect and sensitivity, to make this world a fairer place for all living creatures.

On their website you will find everything you need to make World Animal Day a reality in your area today and every day. They have events listed by countries and continents.  Now is a great opportunity to help make animal welfare issues front page news around the globe – a be vital catalyst for change in the world!

world animal map

How You Can Get Involved on World Animal Day

• Expand your own knowledge and broaden your own horizons by picking up a book by an animal expert extraordinaire

• Write a letter to your local newspaper, or put up a post on your favorite social media site, or blog informing people of World Animal Day

• Donate to a local animal charity or shelter. Local shelters are always in need of food, litter, and supplies. Check with your local shelter before going shopping as many have a giving tree or wish list.

• Volunteer at your local shelter or look into fostering an animal.

• Make your garden more animal friendly: Add a bird bath, and include bee-friendly plants. Learn more here!

• Surprise your animal companion with an unexpected treat, walk, or toy, and carve out some extra time during the day to enjoy their company. If you know somebody who doesn’t have that same opportunity, volunteer to spend some extra time with their companion, too!

The purpose of this day is for people to “use this special day to commemorate their love and respect for animals by doing something special to highlight their importance in the world. Increased awareness will lead the way to improved standards of animal welfare throughout the world.”

Empower. Educate. Collaborate. Be a part of something special today to celebrate all of the animals of the world!


Before you get out there and make a positive difference in your community here is a humorous collection of animals around the world doing what animals do best: having fun and enjoying life!

Enjoy and please spread the joy!

Watch the World Animal Day Mash Up Here!


How will you celebrate World Animal Day?


Be Kind To Animals E V E R Y Week


May 5-11 is Be Kind To Animals Week!

As Conscious Companions we do this every day, but this week we have the opportunity to be proactive about it and encourage others.  Here are a few of my suggestions on what YOU can do:

  • Adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue

Every year over 3.7 million animals are euthanized in U.S. shelters because they could not be adopted into loving homes. Help animals find a second chance at happiness by adopting your next animal companion from a local shelter or rescue group. If you can’t adopt, consider fostering a parrot, cat, or dog.


  • Take excellent care of your animal companion

Our animal companions need us to help keep them healthy and safe throughout their lives.  We do this is by ensuring they are well hydrated and on the healthiest foods, provide nourishing foods when they are sick, being aware of their proper body functions, and scheduling regular visits to a trusted and well respected veterinarian.  We can also make sure they are wearing proper identification, prevent boredom, and provide mental and physical enrichment every day!  These are just a few ways that we can be a responsible animal guardian and show kindness to the animals with whom we share a home.

  • Thank Them. 

Have fun together and praise your animal companion!  It’s not all about the well behaved moments or the correct behaviors. It’s about the connection you have together. It’s about them trying. It’s about you trying. It’s about your bond. And thank them for just showing up.

  • Celebrate Them.

Let’s stop waiting for birthdays to do “special things” with our animal family members. Go on an adventure together on a Wednesday! Offer him that rare, special treat on a Tuesday! Spend quality time with her on a Thursday! Make time for them every day.

  • Listen to Them.

Learn to listen more, observe more, and react less. Learn to Mind Your Mood. Watch what happens.

  • Build Trust.

With the right tools, patience, and determination, we are all capable of making positive impacts and lasting improvements with the animals that we share our homes with. We can do this without fear, force, or intimidation.

  • Keep Your Promises. 

What I give to (or withhold from) myself parallels how I treat others.  What I practice in life parallels life with my animal companions. What we give and receive to ourselves will be reflected in our pets at home.


  • Appreciate wildlife

All animals deserve to be treated humanely — family pets, and animals in the wild.  You can do this by creating an inviting space in your yard and/or garden for butterflies, hummingbirds, and other creatures.  If wildlife comes too close to home, look for ways to coexist with animals, or to protect your property humanely.  Avoid chemicals, pesticides, and over fertilizing; these can kill native insects, amphibians, and drain into your local watershed.  


  • Report animal abuse

Animal cruelty and abuse is not only tragic for animals, but also an indicator that other forms of abuse such as domestic violence could be happening. If you see something that looks suspicious don’t hesitate. Let the proper authorities know.


  • Spread the Word

Volunteer in your local shelter, learn about the animals you live with, and the animals you share the land with. Find how you can support local and global conservation.  Then share your message with friends, family, and your community!


We are One.

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

From Henry Beston’s The Outermost House