Mary Shannon Johnstone is not just your average dog lover. As an artist and photographer living in Wake County, North Carolina, Johnstone is turning her creative talents towards raising awareness about the issue of pet overpopulation. And her Landfill Dogs project is making quite an impact.
Every week, for eighteen months, Johnstone will be taking a trip down to her county animal shelter. She’ll pick up a dog that’s on “death row” – that’s any dog who has been there longer than two weeks and therefore faces euthanasia – and drive the pooch to the nearby local landfill. There, on a lawn that’s been planted over mountains of trash, she’ll photograph her furry subject. And there, perched atop the carefully-buried products of our overconsumption, she’ll try to capture the individual spirit of these abandoned companion animals.
This location, although lovely and landscaped to hide what lies beneath, was not chosen by accident. The landfill serves as both a literal, as well as a metaphorical, backdrop.
Because this is in fact the very place where these dogs will eventually be sent, if they are unable to find a permanent home. If they are not adopted, they will become nothing more than trash, discarded forever with the rest of our unwanted refuse.
Conversely, Johnstone believes the unconventional setting sends a positive message as well. In her own words, “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.”
Johnstone has an undeniable knack for capturing the soul and personality of these unwanted innocents. Her photos are evocative, moving, and at times humorous. They offer the viewer a window of connection to an otherwise unseen population.
As of mid-November, 2013, 66 of the Landfill Dogs have left the shelter, either adopted out to permanent homes or transferred to “no kill” rescue groups. But 21 of them have not.
Five of those have been euthanized.
The number one contributor to the problem of pet overpopulation is intentional or accidental over-breeding in un-altered animals. Spaying and neutering every pet is critically important. And if you’re considering adding a dog or cat to your family this year, please make sure you adopt from a rescue organization. You will literally be saving a life.