Landfill Dogs: A Passion Project
December 9, 2013

How much better off would shelter animals be if they could write their own adoption bios? In my head, it would be a lot like writing an online dating profile—they would include a list of their best qualities and a little about their history, and they’d definitely put up their best pictures. Unfortunately, that is not how shelters work. Animals are taken in and often given a very small window of time to be considered for adoption before they are euthanized.

Mary Shannon Johnstone is currently working on a photography project called “Landfill Dogs” that aims to capture shelter dogs from their best side. As Johnstone explains in her artistic statement for the project, each week for 18 months she will “bring one dog from the county animal shelter and photograph him/her at the local landfill.”

Johnstone’s reason for choosing the landfill as the location for the shoots is twofold: the landfill is where the dogs will wind up if they are not adopted and the county animal shelter is run by the same people as the landfill. Johnstone feels that this speaks to how the government views these animals as waste. This is not to say that Johnstone is all doom and gloom, quite the opposite, she sees the beauty that has become of this place of disposal and she highlights a similar beauty in these animals that have been cast aside.

If you did not know what you were looking at, you would think that you were looking at an ad for dog food or, in shots like this, you might even think that a pet’s owner had commissioned the photo. Johnstone does a beautiful job of capturing the very essence of the animal. Some dogs look proud, others hopeful, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are beautiful creatures deserving of love.

Johnstone is not exploiting the animals for some grand photojournalistic purpose. Her goal is to help these animals find forever homes. However, she understands that this cannot always be the case and—at the very least—she gives them one last wonderful day. The day of the shoot, “each dog receives a car ride, a walk, treats, and about two hours of much-needed individual attention.”

To me, “Landfill dogs” is the very definition of a passion project. Johnstone is passionate about animals and artwork, combining them to fight back against the gross amount of animal abuse and neglect that occurs every single day.

They don’t just put faces to dogs in danger of being euthanized, they give people a glimpse of the very best these dogs have to offer, and they showcase personalities that might otherwise be overlooked in a small cage in a room full of other dogs.

Armed with nothing but her camera and an open mind, Johnston helping these dogs put their best paw forward. According to this article from ABC News from December 4th, Johnstone’s pictures have found homes for 67 of the dogs featured.