Disturbing Photos Capture the Realities of Euthanization at Animal Shelters

Warning: This post contains strong and disturbing photos of euthanasia and animal suffering.


Every year in North Carolina, over 250,000 animals are euthanized because there is no one willing to adopt them and care for them. This averages to nearly 700 animals killed daily. NC-based photographer Mary Shannon Johnstone has been on a mission to draw public awareness to the issue of animal overpopulation. Her gut-wrenching project, titled “Breeding Ignorance,” offers an brutally honest look at the conditions inside animal shelters and the tragedy of beautiful (and often healthy) animals being put down.

Johnstone writes, “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 pets.”

Cats Await Sort

Cats Await Sort

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

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

Kittens Before Euthanasias

Kittens Before Euthanasias

Purebreds: It is a myth that animal shelters are filled with mutts.

Purebreds: It is a myth that animal shelters are filled with mutts.

Dead Dogs: After dogs have been euthanized, their bodies are placed into large black plastic bags and their kennels are sanitized.

Dead Dogs: After dogs have been euthanized, their bodies are placed into large black plastic bags and their kennels are sanitized.

Cats in Freezer: Cat carcasses are stored in a walk in freezer until they can be picked up and disposed of.

Cats in Freezer: Cat carcasses are stored in a walk in freezer until they can be picked up and disposed of.

Happy Tail: Too much tail wagging against a hard surface can result in a bloody-tipped tail known as "happy-tail".

Happy Tail: Too much tail wagging against a hard surface can result in a bloody-tipped tail known as “happy-tail”.

Scared Dog Before Euthanasia 2: This dog is frightened while receiving the anesthetic before the euthanasia.

Scared Dog Before Euthanasia 2: This dog is frightened while receiving the anesthetic before the euthanasia.

Scared Dog Before Euthanasia: This dog is frightened while receiving the anesthetic before the euthanasia.

Scared Dog Before Euthanasia: This dog is frightened while receiving the anesthetic before the euthanasia.

Without a Home: Kitten anesthetized before euthanasia.

Without a Home: Kitten anesthetized before euthanasia.

You can find more of Johnstone’s photos over on her website. Be warned, though: many of the photographs are even more graphic and disturbing than the ones featured here.

The photographs in the project are divided into two subsets. One is titled Discarded Property, and focuses specifically on the topic of euthanasia. The other is titled Shelter Life, and offers a look at the conditions of animals at shelters.

Johnstone has also bee working on a separate project titled Landfill Dogs, which features portraits of dogs that are at risk of being put down if they are not adopted soon.

Breeding Ignorance by Mary Shannon Johnstone (via Feature Shoot)

Image credits: Photographs by Mary Shannon Johnstone and used with permission

  • Fed Up

    I always adopt older animals no one else wants and have not been sorry yet- they have so much love to give and no one to give it too.

  • Fed Up

    I was a breeder and made sure where my puppies went and that unless they were show quality and were going to be shown they were spayed or neutered- I have also found pregnant dogs on the side of the road and made sure after caring for them and their puppies that the puppies went to a reputable rescue where they were spayed or neutered and the home they went into was inspected reguarly. A true breeder only adds to that breed-doesn’t sell puppies on the side of the road to anyone who will buy one.And in our town at least I wish they could trace the puppy they gave away on the side of the road by Wal-Mart. They are as bad as Wal-Mart themselves and that’s pretty bad.

  • Fed Up

    I love in Florida and I resent the especially in the south note- most people I know in the south who could not afford to spay or neuter had a crib or some other place where they shut up their female dogs (they could not afford a litter) and did not have puppies ,or humanely destroyed all but one when they where born if they occasionally had an accident. I am on the board of a “no kill” shelter and all of the other board members are FROM the north- all of my neighbors except one are FROM the north- the people around here who throw away dogs are northerners who are used to having a shelter or rescue to take care of their mistakes and now that they do not have one just dump them. Think about it a while.

  • Fed Up

    Amen- I am on the board of one no kill shelter and one county animal control and neither have ever used a gas chamber and worked for a vet for over 40 years and they also never used a gas chamber when asked to euthanize an animal nor would they do just because it was inconvienent to the owner now.

  • Fed Up

    Years ago I showed a lady how she would be healthier if she just stopped smokeing for a month so she could afford to spay her cat- for a few people it might mean cut your eating but in some cases that would be a good thing- but if you get a six week old puppy you can save up enough from nonneaded things you buy by the time it is old enough to spay!

  • Fed Up

    I too have been there and done that with tears running down my face and the face of everyone involved- just think of having once a week to pick up who lives and who does not and then give them that last shot.

  • Fed Up

    You have not walked in his shoes…. I have … have no idea.

  • Fed Up

    I have a number of rescue dogs NO one else would take for various reasons- all at the present happen to be purebreds but one Poodle mix but that is just the way it happened- I also have one bought from a good breeder because I wanted a puppy of that kind and could not find one in a rescue at the time -yes I have 7 dogs and all are cared for and treated equally.One of my current rescues was dumped Ia blue heeler) and we had to have a c-section on her the day after we got her but all her puppies(Rottie crosses) went to good homes, inspected, spayed, neutered, vaccinated and then reinspected several times and we kept her.

  • Christopher Hattery

    Tubes can be tied, guys can be snipped after 2nd child. If additional children are wanted, Adopt.

  • Arleyv

    This is a pretty good article and should be shared. The only issue I have is the demonization of the employees at the humane society. Most of them love animals and it takes a strong person to be able to do and see what they do on a daily basis. Until people take responsibility for their animals the job done by animal control and the humane society will be necessary.

  • John Sibley

    Yes, don’t blame the people doing the killing. They love animals so much that they slaughter them on a daily basis while lying to themselves, saying “there’s no other way”. Of course there’s another way – there are 90+ No Kill communities in the United States.

  • Arleyv

    Yes because those no kill shelters never send animals to a kill shelter to be euthanized. Ignorance must be bliss. The problem is the irresponsible pet owners not the people cleaning up their mess.

  • Samuel

    Hmm having volunteered at a shelter here that had to engage in euthanasia (every january and February). It was that or just let a lot of them starve to death I had to euthanise many animals before i had to leave because it was far too devastating.

    However the red pole, which I’m guessing is an auto injector seems somewhat traumatic, it may be time efficient but come at a scared animal with a sharp red stick and they are going to panic. The process I used at the shelter i worked with was to take them to the room where it happened, give them some treats and relax them until they are laying on their side and slipping the needle into their leg vein.

    Yes there was a yelp when the needle went in but no panic and no struggling.

    Unfortunately not ever shelter has enough time for ear stroking and wrapping their euthanise-es in a blanket, we had a sign up in what was known as the “Gloom Room” that read

    “Last moments last forever, make them as happy as possible”

    A necessary but sad photo project. neuter and spay people PLEASE!

  • angel

    I agree, sometimes the no kill shelters adoption process is way to picky. I have three rescues of my own and frequent the dog park often, I met a great couple there who went to a no kill shelter to rescue a Siberian Husky and were told because they had no yard that they would not be a good fit. They told the shelter that they lived 1 block from the dog park and they were willing to open their home to home visits. They still were turned down. They ended up going to a breeder instead, their dog Rosco is healthy, energetic and well adjusted. I know this because I see them at the dog park almost every day.

  • confused

    Did I miss something? I thought we were talking about the over population of animals and the irresponsible people that adopt and buy them. How the hell did you people start talking about enforcing breeding laws on humans, you totally got off the subject. Are you people smoking crack?

  • Jesse99

    What does the no kill shelter do when they are over filled?

  • in memory of all animals

    Yes spay and neutering needs to be done/backyard breeding needs to stop. Governments are missing out and $ because many of these breeders are also welfare recipients! Still the killing innocent animals is wrong..just as wrong as killing a human day you will all have to answer for each animal you killed because your facility was full..or you wouldn’t let a rescue pull or an adopter happens more often then people know. Many facilities are torturing the animals and then deem them unsafe to rescue all because a few monsters that were let to work in these places.Why the hell did you get into this business?? Them time will come and I pray sooner then later!!

  • Shea

    They send them to a kill shelter.

  • Caroline Perrie


  • Caroline Perrie

    too many people breeding like rabbits

  • Caroline Perrie


  • lisa ayers

    1. No such thing as a no kill shelter. Their still killing sick, vicious, feral and
    elderly. So technically they only hold onto highly adoptable.

  • overflowed with Huskies

    rescues are funded by donations with little or no discounts given by vets. They are completely ran by volunteers who have full times jobs to support their own family. I am a member of a rescue group that kennels runith over…..I’m a foster also who currently cares for 12 dogs while they wait for homes. My local vet charges us over a hundred for alters. so unless you are doing the same as all us volunteers living without vacations and free time you better do your research.

  • overflowing with huskiesh

    We place Huskies in apts its the adopters who always want that flashy youngster that will not fit in their lifestyle….how about a 5 yr old who does not require 5 miles of jogging a day….Most huskies who have ended up in the shelter have hardly any housetraining at all. I can’t tell you how many times the dog has been returned because it chewed something up.

  • voldenuit

    mais quand allez vous cesser de massacres les animaux bande de barbares !!

  • Amber

    Is there any hope in any of this being stopped in the world?:(

  • LJ

    I agree that sometimes shelters are too picky – but they ultimately are that way to protect the animals & make sure they get forever homes. In the process, they sometimes overlook good people for their animals – but better they are this way than just letting anyone have the animals as there as MANY animal abusers out there. They don’t know you personally, so try not to take it personally.

  • LJ

    Their fees are high because that is the only way to feed, house & give medical care to the animals – plus this is a way to cut down on people that are wanting the animals to abuse them. You have to remember, the shelter people do not know you.

  • Facebook User

    Sadly I no so many rescues that do not spay and neuter. Every animal that leaves our rescue is spayed or neutered often our adopt fee is less then that of rescues adopting out animals not fixed. Sadly many “rescues” aren’t solving or fixing anything.

  • xxx

    !#!~$!$@%T!T^#Q!TGQWT#!T^!#^@#^$@&@$&@$&@$&@$&@ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alberto Arnau

    So sad….

  • Tiffany Bliss

    We need to change the regulations for animal owners. Needs to be more educating and funding. Change the way animals fit in to society . Its a complex issue as they are wild animals been demestcated into a life they never asked for nor understood and we all fear what we dont understand.

  • Lucky

    I know you are catching a lot of slack for the “south” comment but I agree. I am from the South and I know you didn’t mean to intentionally insult all southerners; I honestly find myself thinking the same thing. I am from NC and I also volunteer/foster for a few rescue groups and a shelter and I see this day in and day out. I do the phone calls for one of the groups and often the people calling to try to get help for stray animals are northerners (and I am not saying this because I am a huge fan on northerners or anything). They are always quite surprised to learn that there isn’t much help or hope for animals here and that usually we are unable to help them.

    I will say though that I think NC is one of the worst among the southern states so maybe I am biased. I have known breeders who refuse to sell to anyone in NC for various reasons. Our ag department is in charge of our shelters and animal laws. We have had the same “good ol’ boy” lazy ass, good for nothing ag commissioner for years. He stands in the way of any animal welfare progress in our state whether it is to stop puppy mills or to stop heart stick or gassing (many of our shelters still use this) killing methods in our shelters. What’s worse is the shelter’s are often run by the sheriff’s department and they often implement horrible policies like refusing to adopt out strays or only offering 8 animals at a time for adoption while all the rest get put to sleep without ever being offered for adoption.
    Top officials have said that they would rather let people and shelters change on their own so it’s obvious to me that NC will probably always be one of the worst states for animal welfare matters.

  • Astrid Bogaerts

    Gandhy say you can see civilisation off human on the way they treat animals. Why are some human so very cruel, it must be punisjed very well

  • Tuula Vilppu

    2 Two words SPAY NEUTER! So sorry this have to happend these innocent loving souls.HUMANS are the cruelest of all species ever!

  • ElisabethElisabeth

    People over the World are crazy – so sad for this
    i canĀ“t belive at humans…. what is that for people who do this to animal?

  • Alyson Hope

    people who genuinely want a pet will pay the fee. If they give them away for free people will be abusing them left right and centre.

  • Cisco Chachi Cisco

    Oh you figured out that stupid humans were the problem…..congratulations. Now start euthanizing them and watch the happy results.

  • Cisco Chachi Cisco

    Then go to a shelter that will-!

  • Monica Gabriela Maghiar

    sorry! as about the anesthetising pets before euthanising them IT IS NOT TRUE!!! only vets also anesthetise pets before!!! public shelters even kill them with a thick heart stick!!!! no anesthesia!!! and animals are in convulsions, defecating… up to 10 minutes while are thrown in a pile of deads…

  • Len

    I wanna kill someone when I see heartbreaking images like these !!! “How can people be so cruel . . . . ” , indeed.

  • Gettry

    So sad :(

  • Loulou Bico

    So sick, it makes me so sad and angry, poor poor helpless animals !!!

  • Tyler Tudor

    this is just so terrible why euthanize it there when i do it at home for free then eat them so please feed your animals well before you give them to me

  • Raf

    America=Democracy? I don’t think so!! It’s just disgusting! It’s like we kill a child without a home because none wants to adopt him… Very very sad!



  • Julie Davis

    Thats BS!! I run a no Kill Rescue and Sanctuary in Texas. We have NO funds. There are a grand total of 4 humans and 65 dogs and 5 cats. If we are lucky we get 2-3 hundred dollars in donations a month!! The SPCA is a MULTI-MILLION dollar BUSINESS!!! They have celebrity endorsements and huge amounts donated daily!! AND THEY STILL EUTHANIZE!! We do not save lives because there is profit in it!!! There are hundreds of small mom and pop shelters in the US, some times those mom and pops go with out eating to pay for food, heating/ac, medical care for their animals!!!!



  • Julie Davis

    Or he barked when the doorbell rings or she eats to much ori am all of a sudden allergic or my friends cousins sister who comes over twice ayear is scared….. and my favorite She/he is to old and no fun!!!

  • Julie Davis

    A sweet pitty that was adopted from our shelter still has ” happy tail” after finding his furrever home 6 mo. ago!! He just can’t not be happy!!

  • Julie Davis

    It’s not easy, but the ones we do get to save makes it SO worth it!
    Everyone can help!! You do not have to donate or volunteer. you can use your facebook to share and cross post. You can set water out in your neighborhood and if u can afford it you can set up feeding stations in areas with a large amount of strays!!