One Woman's Quest to Save Dogs' Lives With a Camera

Shannon Johnstone photographs unwanted dogs to get them adopted.

ByABC News
December 4, 2013, 3:37 PM
Harold was adopted after photographer Shannon Johnstone's portraits of him went viral.
Harold was adopted after photographer Shannon Johnstone's portraits of him went viral.
Shannon Johnstone

Dec. 4, 2013— -- Photographer Shannon Johnstone saves the lives of unwanted dogs with her camera. She turns the sad photos of dogs waiting to be adopted into happy photos with families.

She specifically photographs dogs that have been waiting in the shelter the longest: large dogs, pit bull mixes and dogs with black fur. The shelters say that dogs with black coats are harder to place in homes.

The Wake County Animal Shelter outside Raleigh, N.C., calls Johnstone an angel. So far, her pictures have found homes for 67 of its dogs. Most of them were running out of time. The shelter can only hold so many.

"I wanted to specifically focus on the ones who had been there the longest, because they're not going to have much time left," Johnstone said.

Every week, Johnstone and her husband, Anthony, take dogs from the shelter to a landfill across town where the magic happens. For many of the dogs, it's the first time in months they've been able to escape their small pens at the shelter.

"They're here sometimes for 30 days or more, they get out and they're so joyous. They're showcasing this energy, this optimism that they're still waiting for that perfect person and, hopefully, that will come," said Jennifer Federico, the animal services director at the Wake County Animal Shelter.

On Johnstone's Facebook page that's dedicated to the dogs, the photos have become wildly popular. Thousands of families visit the page, and fall in love with the dogs that play and fly.

"I'll wake up in the middle of the night and be like, did they get their home yet?" Johnstone told ABC News.

Scott and Sherri Lynch were looking at that Facebook page when they saw Carlos' picture flash by.

"He's not boring like cats," the Lynch's son, Ryan, said.

They adopted Carlos the next day.

"If we had just gone to the shelter, I would never have looked at him because he's big," said Sherri Lynch of the pit bull mix. "Who would have known he's such a sweetheart. Thanks to Shannon, she helped us pick him out, which was so nice."

The shelter screens each dog for behavior and sociability, but some potential dog owners require convincing.

The pictures do the job.

"Some of their faces are so expressive in her photos that you really can almost feel for these dogs, and you want them. How can you not? You want some of that fun in your life!" Federico said.

Johnstone says the key is exactly that -- taking pictures that show the fun and joy of the dog instead of the frustration that frightens families when they visit the shelters.

"Everyone finds themselves having bad times. These dogs are just fallen on hard times," said Johnstone. "I feel like having good pictures helps them tremendously, because they've been there so long that whatever is being done right now isn't working."

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