Photo project gives shelter dogs a chanced

Picture it. Dogs running free with tongues panting laboriously, tails wagging excitedly and ears hanging low and wobbling to and fro. That’s the scene when photographer Shannon Johnstone takes dogs out from a North Carolina shelter for her photo project, “Landfill Dogs.”

Johnston’s project showcases animals that have been in the Wake Countlandfilly Animal Center shelter for too long and face euthanasia. She photographs at a landfill to show that these animals could end up there along with everything else people have discarded.

“Throwing bodies into landfill after being injected with a barbiturate isn’t good for the environment,” Johnstone said. “My hope is that underlying that, we can figure out what to do to curb overpopulation from starting in the first place.”

The pictures show the dogs free from restraint with leashes and collars digitally removed and people erased. Sometimes capes or other adornments are added. “I think of the photos as their hopes and dreams, not their reality,” Johnstone said. “It’s their dreams and wishes, thinking about running free on a hill like that.”

The project has not been without success. Johnstone received a grant to complete the project and was able to take a sabbatical from her job as an associate professor of art at Meredith College. Of the 127 dogs she has photographed, 108 have gotten homes. Her photos are posted on the shelter’s website and have hung in galleries. She hopes to publish a book at the end of the project with the proceeds going to the shelter.

“She has made a world of difference,” said Joanne Duda, foster coordinator at the Wake County Animal Center. “She’s bringing awareness in a way that clicks with people.”

Another goal of “Landfill Dogs” is to show off the animals that might be overlooked or passed over in a shelter. “Black dog syndrome” is a documented phenomenon that explains how people often pass over dark colored animals or ones that don’t stick out in a shelter.

“They’re unlucky. That’s it, plain and simple,” Johnstone said. “They’re unlucky dogs, and I think they deserve a chance.” Johnstone’s work can be viewed at http://landfilldogs.info/.

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