Photographer Mary Shannon Johnstone is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘Breeding Ignorance’To see Mary’s body of work, click on any image.


Have to Be
“The tragedy is not the fact we euthanize cats and dogs. The tragedy is that we HAVE to euthanize them. There is no alternative.” —anonymous veterinarian


A few drops of blood are shed while anesthetizing the dog.


Cats In Freezer
Cat carcasses are stored in a walk in freezer until they can be picked up and disposed of. These cats represent less than one month of cats euthanized at just one animal shelter.                                          


Cat Euthanize
After cats and dogs have been anesthetized, they are then euthanized by injection with an even stronger anesthetic.


With this work (created in 2009) I explore the tragedy of the massive overpopulation of cats and dogs in my community. In North Carolina, every year over 250,000* dogs and cats have to be euthanized because there is no place to put them. That is almost 700 every day, which I find shocking and heartbreaking. Although heroic efforts are made daily by animal control officers, shelter employees, veterinarians, and volunteers, they are faced with a Sisyphean task. These photographs explore the animals and aftermath of this epidemic, focusing on what remains when there are no regulations on breeding, spaying or neutering.


Unlike humans, female cats never go through menopause and can produce kittens their entire life, resulting in hundreds of kittens from just one cat.


After adopting two dogs, I wondered why dogs are “purchased” at all, and began volunteering at a state-owned animal control facility. I was stunned to learn they receive over 8,000 animals annually, but can only hold 275* animals at a time. This results in thousands of euthanasias at this facility alone. Equally stunning, I learned many potential owners oppose the 100% sterilization policy. After months of volunteering and listening, I decided to respond photographically.

On my first visit to photograph the euthanasias, the lead veterinarian pulled me aside saying she had one rule—

if I needed to cry, I had to leave the building.

She explained the need for professionalism, and that crying was not allowed. Alternatively she offered, “You leave here, then you cry, and you love the animals you have. That is what I do. That is what we all do.” Another vet offered, “The tragedy is not that we euthanize animals. The tragedy is that we HAVE to euthanize. There is no alternative.” With this in mind, I decided the project should focus on the animals and the aftermath—but not the workers, whose identities I purposefully blocked. I hope these photographs call attention to the tragic epidemic of animal overpopulation, and illuminate what happens when we don’t spay and neuter our cats and dogs.


Cats and dogs are anesthetized before they are euthanized. Although the sedation does not hurt, many fight because they are scared.


Dogs who have demonstrated aggression, such as used for pit fighting or biting a human, are destroyed.


Bagging Walker Hound
Unwanted dogs are euthanized and then disposed of.


Kittens After
These cats have been anesthetized as they wait to be euthanized.


Since this project was created in 2009, euthanasia numbers have dropped dramatically across the state. In 2018 (the most recent figures) 73,737 cats and dogs were euthanized in NC. That is a 70% reduction, which is remarkable. Still not enough, but improvements nonetheless.

*These figures are from 2009, when Breeding Ignorance was created.


All images and text © Mary Shannon Johnstone



See also:

Landfill Dogs Gallery

Landfill Dogs Book

By Mary Shannon Johnstone





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