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Are We Treating Dogs Like Trash?

Are We Treating Dogs Like Trash?

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.


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Read more: Adoptable pets, Cute Pet Photos, Do Good, Dogs, Make a Difference, Pets, , , , ,

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Sayward Rebhal

Sayward Rebhal is a writer, a mother, a mover and a maker. Author of the Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide, Sayward also works as a Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and blogs about all things "socially conscious, totally fabulous" at


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4:29AM PST on Dec 30, 2014

They've got their dignity and rights like anyone of us

2:09AM PST on Nov 4, 2014

Thank you!

4:08PM PDT on Oct 6, 2014

Beautiful photos. There are too many ignorant people who buy pets from backyard breeders, grow bored with the pet, or move and choose not to take the pet with them- then dump them at a shelter. Poor animals do not deserve to be treated like trash...

4:45AM PDT on Sep 10, 2014

Thank you.

11:19AM PDT on Jul 4, 2014

Thank you Sayward Rebhal. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Mary Shannon Johnstone. Your pictures, the story and your willingness to take time out of your life to do this, have touched my soul. You are wonderful in my book.

4:01PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

The answer, of course, is YES. Don't see things changing unless the mindset of that segment of the overall populous gets a transplant.

The homeless, the disabled, the under-educated, any "inconvenient" person or group, no matter the species -- has become fair game. We are fast becoming our own worst enemy ... through greed, corruption, disinterest, reduction in values, accountability, responsibility, etc. In ways large and/or small, we all share ownership.

7:41AM PST on Feb 18, 2014

This is very powerful, everyone who chooses to buy a puppy, which encourages more dogs to be bred, often in dreadful conditions, should be forced to read this. Don't support puppy mills, offer a shelter dog a forever home.

8:37AM PST on Feb 17, 2014

We have always had rescue dogs . Seven up to now. They all just want to be loved and cared for.

6:45PM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Animals are smart and just need love and correct care. It angers me to see how people treat them sometimes. :(

2:47AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Have always taken in strays since I was a child & my mother would take them in, "because no one else wanted them and all creatures great & small deserved a home" I have continued that tradition through my life and my children do it now. It is awful what we do to our animals here!!

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