Milk Duds. Impoundment #85486 // www.shannonjohnstone.com

Landfill Dogs is a photography series by Mary Shannon Johnstone. I’ve enjoyed it so much, I want to share it with you. Her work is so moving and inspiring.

Johnstone has been spending time photographing dogs who live at animal shelters. Each week, she’ll take a dog and to a landfill to run, play, and eat treats. The dogs get to ride in a car and have some one-on-one attention. The individual attention and play time are rare at over-crowded animal shelters.

Afterwards, Johnstone posts photos from the shoot on Facebook. Each dog is up for adoption. Some of the dogs have already found homes.

These are stunning and beautiful photos that “showcase the beautiful souls of the most unwanted dogs.” With her permission, I’m sharing some of her work here so you can enjoy it.

Ice Frosting. Impoundment #82263 // www.shannonjohnstone.com
Percy. Impoundment #81483 // www.shannonjohnstone.com
Momma. Impoundment #68215 // www.shannonjohnstone.com
Mistletoe. Impoundment #81087 // www.shannonjohnstone.com
Baby. Impoundment #58412 // www.shannonjohnstone.com
Milk Duds. Impoundment #85486 // www.shannonjohnstone.com

The statement on the Landfill Dogs Facebook page explains the project and the significance of the landfill best:

These are not just cute pictures of dogs. These are dogs who have been homeless for at least two weeks, and now face euthanasia if they do not find a home. Each week for 18 months (late 2012–early 2014) I bring one dog from the county animal shelter and photograph him/her at the local landfill.

The landfill site is used for two reasons. First, this is where the dogs will end up if they do not find a home. Their bodies will be buried deep in the landfill among our trash. These photographs offer the last opportunity for the dogs to find homes.

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.

As part of this photographic process, each dog receive a car ride, a walk, treats, and about 2 hours of much needed individual attention. My goal is to offer an individual face to the souls that are lost because of animal overpopulation, and give these animals one last chance. This project will continue for one year, so that we can see the landscape change, but the constant stream of dogs remains the same.

— Mary Shannon Johnstone

There are so many reasons I love this project. The photos are beautiful and moving. I’m inspired by how she’s turned her photography talent into a life-saving tool for the dogs. What she has shared taught me a lot about what’s happening at the shelters.

When I first met Shannon Johnstone, I was a student at Meredith College. She had moved to North Carolina from Chicago, a city that has had a firm grip on my heart for so many years. I remember listening in awe as she told me about running around the lake. (Boy, was I jealous.) She has also just adopted a sweet, shy dog which we got to meet a few times. I loved it.

Ms. Johnstone came to Meredith College just as I was preparing to graduate. I was incredibly lucky to have her as a professor, even for just a short time. She challenged me, expected a lot from me, and wouldn’t let me get away with much in class. I needed that.

I’m so moved by her work and want to do more to help the Landfill Dogs.


If you’re thinking about bringing a dog into your life, please consider adoption. Do some research about breeds to be sure you’re finding the right fit. If you’re set on having a pure breed, don’t ignore the animal shelters. Pure breeds are often surrendered to the animal shelters.

You can also foster. If you’re not sure about offering a “forever home” to an animal, fostering is a great opportunity. Fostering a dog will keep him out of the animal shelter and safe from euthanasia until he finds a permanent home. There’s a lot of joy in fostering.

You can also like Landfill Dogs on Facebook to see more photos from Mary Shannon Johnstone. There are some incredible photos of dogs available for adoption on the page. If you feel so inclined, share them with your friends. You may know someone looking for a sweet pup to add to the family.

UPDATE (12/10/2013): Shannon Johnstone’s work has gotten a LOT of coverage in the news lately. How wonderful! Here are a few places to get more information: MashableBuzzfeedPicture CorrectHLNN&OHuffPo,  TodayYahoo!, and ABC.


    1. Thanks, Charles. I hope you can see the rest of her work at Designbox while it’s on display. I’m a big fan. My dog is a pound puppy, who was rescued by my sister. He’s taught me so much about life!

  1. when this post popped up on my news feed, I immediately knew what the title implied. I knew viewing would be a rough ride as I am a devoted animal lover and have been gearing up to start volunteering at my local shelters and donating what I can. I also try to educate as many as possible about choosing adoption over breeders and pet stores. Let me just say that it took me 20 minutes and a half a box of kleenex to regain my composure after seeing these photos. The are so beautiful, heart-rending, haunting photos I have ever seen. These photos speak volumes. It’s like you can see their souls and picture the world through their eyes. Out of all the animal advocacy groups trying to push adoption to save lives, this is truly the most thought evoking and profound. These photos and the message need to be shared far and wide. Bless her heart for giving these animals her time and attention. I am sure that many of them have not had much positive attention in their lives. For some it is possibly the last and only love they will feel. Now excuse me while I get back to the box of kleenex.

    1. You’re not alone, Nicole. I wept when I looked through them the first time. Shannon does a great job as a photographer, capturing the dignity of these sweet animals. I hope the photos continue to move people to adopt and support the animal shelters.

  2. I’am touched, what an amazing project!! It’s in my line of being and it wonderful to see the power of the medium photography combined with the purist love and attention for the dogs/animals. Beautiful images, but there’s much more to it. To me this project is about pure love for animals and even believe it brings awareness for animal wellfare. It’s a project I dream of.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Maarten. I’m so in love with this project. So happy that it had such a positive impact on you.

  3. Enjoyed your photos so much this morning; the one of the dog leaping into the air with happiness made me smile. Thank you for what you do for these animals.
    I have two cats and both were recused, one from the pound and one from a feral mother cat. Love your work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.