Sunday, February 16, 2014

Landfill Dogs: Shannon Johnstone Uses Her Passion to Save Those Most in Need

Dressed in Red is currently looking for a home. Find adoption info at http://landfilldogs.info/.
Photo credit Shannon Johsntone.


This post is part of our series for February highlighting charities to provide inspiration for spreading our love to those in need.

Last year, I learned about Landfill Dogs, a completely heartwarming and selfless project run by photographer Shannon Johnstone. Shannon uses her artistry to take photographs of dogs facing euthanasia in a county animal shelter in North Carolina to show them in a different light and to help them find loving homes. I am just totally amazed on how she has channeled her passion to focus on saving the dogs most in need. I wanted to share her cause with you to show how we can all use our gifts to help those in need. Shannon agreed to do a special interview just for our readers. Too often, the plight of these dogs is forgotten. I think it is just amazing that Shannon has found a way to use her passion to help these dogs find homes. I hope that you can find some inspiration from Shannon:

How did you first come up with the concept for Landfill Dogs?

About four years ago, the former Director of Environmental Services contacted me about the landfill site being turned into a public park and suggested that it would be an excellent backdrop to photograph the animals. We went there together and he showed me around, and it was perfect! However, our meeting left me wondering why Environmental Services encompassed both the animal shelter and waste services. After learning that animals are considered property under the law, and the government provides somewhere for us to bring our unwanted property, it occurred to me that this government structure reflected a societal value that not many people were aware of. I wanted to shed light on that.


How did you choose Wake County Animal Center for this project?
 
I live in Wake County and it was really important to me to focus on the homeless animals in my own community.

How many dogs have been adopted during the course of your project?
 
So far I have photographed 86 dogs. 63 have found homes or been sent to rescue. 6 have been euthanized, and 17 are still waiting.
 
I understand that your project is on a grant? How long will the project last and would you consider extending it?
 
This project is under a year-long sabbatical. I am an Associate Professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, and so I am off from teaching for the entire academic year (until August 2014). I do have a small grant to print the work and permanently display it at the animal shelter and in the Wake County Environmental Services building, but this project is made possible from the sabbatical.
 
How can others help in this mission?

People can volunteer at their own local county shelter. They can also adopt from a county shelter instead of buying a dog. I want to make sure I stress that there are Landfill Dogs in every community. All you have to do is go into your local county shelter and ask for the dog who has been there the longest.
 
 
What have you found to be the most rewarding?  
 
Probably the most rewarding thing is doing the follow-up photo shoots of the dogs in their new homes. They look so happy and loved. It usually brings tears to my eyes.

 
What have you learned through this experience?

One of the biggest things that has changed for me is my assumptions regarding pit bulls. I was not planning on focusing on any particular breeds. Unfortunately, in my county shelter, pits and pit mixes are the dogs that no one seems to want. Before starting this project, I bought into the negative stereotypes about pitbulls. I thought they were unpredictable, untrustworthy, and scary. However, what I have found is that pits are some of the most bouncy, snuggly, obedient, and loving dogs around. The next time we have an opening for a dog (we have four dogs and two cats right now), we are going to consider a pit or pit mix. This realization reminded me to stay open and not too fixed in what I think I know.


Will you continue working with dogs in some capacity once your grant is up?


Absolutely! I have been a volunteer at the Wake County Animal Center since 2006. I don’t see that changing. I will continue to do Landfill Dogs even after the sabbatical is over, but I may not be able to maintain the same intensity once I am back at work. That is why there is an end date on the project.
 
For fun: I see that you received your BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Many of our readers are in the Chicagoland area. What was one of your favorite things about the city?
 
 
I loved the summers in Chicago. I really enjoyed running along Lake Michigan up and down the bike path. I also miss The Art Institute of Chicago. I would go there every day when I was in school. It was a place I found solace. I also miss The Museum of Contemporary Photography.

A big Thank You to Shannon for sharing more about Landfill Dogs with us! Thank you so much for everything that you are doing to help these dogs have a second chance!

Ways that you can help: Shannon highlighted some really good ways that you can help including volunteering at a local shelter or adopting a rescue. You can also check with your shelter for fostering programs. Plus, you can actively forward adoption information from local shelters through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. You can donate to your shelter. Donations do not necessarily need to be in the form of money. Our local shelter, The Buddy Foundation, has a nice list of items that they will take. Some are office and cleaning supplies--items that you can often get pretty cheap especially when couponing! Plus, shelters will often take old towels. So, during your spring cleaning, check with your shelter and see if they would like some of your old towels. Also, shelters run events throughout the year. The Buddy Foundation actually has a yearly garage sale. You can donate items for them to sell to raise funds. So, you can make a difference even by doing something small!

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