Landfill Dogs is one of those projects that makes me happy and all chin-quivery all at the same time. The photo series is the creation of photographer Mary Shannon Johnstone and features dogs available for adoption — and at risk of euthanasia if not adopted — from the Wake County Animal Shelter in Raleigh, North Carolina. Each week for a little over a year, Johnstone has taken an at-risk dog from the shelter and photographed him or her at the county landfill. The goal of the project is to bring attention and to put a face to the real victims of animal overpopulation — with the added bonus of each photographed dog receiving “a car ride, a walk, treats, and about 2 hours of much-needed individual attention.”

Johnstone’s reasoning behind selecting the landfill as the site for her portraits is both pointed and poignant. She states:

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.

Since Johnstone began the Landfill Dogs project, many of the featured dogs have been adopted. Some have been euthanized, and some are still waiting for forever homes. Johnstone plans to wrap up the project in early 2014, with a book of her Landfill Dogs images soon to follow. You can check out more images, meet the dogs, and learn more about the project at Landfill Dogs.