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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Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

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

Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Christine Stewart

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...

Val M.
Val M3 years ago

Thank you.

Bea W.
Bea Wilson3 years ago

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.

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

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.

Howard Crosse
Howard Crosse4 years ago

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.

June Bostock
June Bostock4 years ago

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

Elizabeth Vick
Elizabeth Vick4 years ago

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