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

  • Julie Davis

    It’s not easy to be a rescuer, 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!!

  • Julie Davis

    I am born and bred in Texas! Texas JUST passed no-gassing laws. Like in the last couple of months!!

  • Julie Davis

    STFU!! you have no idea what you are talking about!! We hit the streets and internet getting donations to build more housing and play areas!!

  • Mary

    i wonder why they don’t do that on humans!!!

  • Dora Ponce

    The second to last photo….the dog had a tag on.

  • karenpointer

    So many babies lost :( I’ve rescued two. Its all I can afford to do. I do volunteer to place fur babies in fur-ever homes but our economy is sucking the life out of everyone and they cant afford to feed their children let alone have a pet. breaks my heart into pieces. It is so important to get pets spayed or neutered please do it asap.

  • Sue

    After viewing these photos, first I sobbed and then I got so angry. These bastards go out of their way to make the killing even worse. They hang them upside down, WTF is that? They put those choke colors on them. They show absolutely no love or compassion for the terrified animals. I hope to God one day someone does the exact same thing to you and takes joy in it. Bastards. You don’t have to crucify them before you kill them. I try every day to help and I know so many else who do. Tonight I just hate those killers. I know it isn’t worth hating anyone but for 1 night I can. And please don’t email me saying how they can’t help it, it’s how it’s done. Would it hurt to hold them, to show them the only love they will ever know. I am crying too hard to continue.

  • dcdawn


  • Lisa Pace

    Sadly that’s whats needed to hopefully one day very soon get the message across to people what they are doing when they don’t spay and or neuter their pets.. when they get a pet…whether its for a child for Christmas.. or Easter.. or any other holiday or birthday ..and then forget about the pet when they are grown and the “cuteness” or the “new” has worn off and the pet is then either dumped on the streets..turned over to a shelter.. or even just left tied out in a yard and completely forgotten! It needs to be a law to get ur pet spayed or neutered..and there need to be fines when just discarding an animal like its a piece of trash.. or doing anything to injure or harm or not taking care of any animal

  • Matt

    I feel incredibly sad now :( Time to give my dog a hug.

  • Lawrence Devere

    Puppy mills produce far more than will ever live in loving forever homes. Then they either end up as bait dogs, or neglected dogs chained outside, or put down like you see here.
    As horrible as euthanasia by injection may be, many states still allow gas chambers, which are FAR WORSE.
    If puppy mills were regulated out of existence, and back yard breeders and gas chambers were abolished, that would be a great start.
    And I know- I’m preaching to the choir.

  • Jacque Carlyle Gilmore

    Makes me sick to see these thing. I do feeling they need to posted & people should be aware of what they subject an innocent animal to.

  • Lorraine

    Let me tell you You all MURDER BASTARD and BLACK HEART

  • Pauline Brock

    this is terrible and evil stop killing these precious babies they are innocent its the people who are evil and the people need putting down as this world is to overpopulated by people so stop killing animals







  • Zonnica van den Heever

    It’s good that people see what is the reality! Greeders and their supporters live in their little box worlds and are so closed off, they still believe pure breeds don’t end up in shelters, there are many many breed specific shelters in South Africa, and we are fighting an endless battle with backyard and registered breeders who just don’t want to wake up!

  • Peter Pan

    In my country(Russia),for example,the situation is much.much.much worse

  • Melissa WoofWord

    This is what happens to your pets Craigslist Seattle and around the world – When you think its cute to peddle off your puppies, pitbull, selling the dogs for cheap or high doesnt gaurantee a good home. It didnt gaurantee these guys a good home. Now why you know I am always posting my rants in the pets section. Try this graphic reality for a change instead of listening to the stories that some good people can adopt a dog without being raped by breeder fees and also can save animals and know about the good people can be if we all just SPAY AND NEUTER the pets.

  • Uncle Gargy

    Too many people use animals to make money. Breeding dogs and cats without thought.

  • Kylie

    It isn’t fair. Perfectly healthy cats and kittens, dogs and puppies that have their whole life ahead of them killed because it’s an inconvenience for humans and no one will adopt them. I cried when I saw the two perfectly healthy kittens about to be killed. I believe that we should try and love and respect everyone. But the people who do this are an exception. They deserve to die and rot in hell and I honestly hope they do.

  • zebast chs

    nothing which civilized society should be proud of… SHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME!!!

  • shar scotland

    This is the stuff of nazi Germany circa 1942 – NOT USA 2013!!!!

  • Java

    I’m on CL constantly trying to send messages to dumbasses who attempt to ask for studs, sell puppies, etc. This is terrible and more people should know about it.

  • Krychek_yourself

    We have no one to blame but ourselves. Oh, and this “anesthetic” is nonsense. Only reason it was administered was due to a photographer being present. Most of the time these animals are tossed into large containers and gassed in bulk. Eerily similar to the supposed atrocities that happened in the holocaust.

  • kat

    This is so sad and so wrong. Im in chile the law says euth is only for mercy or rabies. And here i thought usa was more civilized. Not.

  • Marcela Garcia Bonini

    SICK< SICK SICK !!! I always wonder: what can of person can have this "job"?????? I would not do it even I the choice was to be homeless. Please, SPAY and NEUTER !!!! spread the word

  • Marcela Garcia Bonini

    Totally. And WAR against puppy mills till they disappear

  • Rita Badie Ceresini

    A shelter should be a place where animals are safe; however, they never will be as long as euthanasia is used to kill healthy animals to make room for more healthy unwanted animals/pets. It is not our right to take their lives. Shelters need to find more fosters, hold pet adoption events, whatever it takes to find these animals a home. It doesn’t make any sense that we have to rescue animals from shelters because more end up deceased then actually find a home. The mentality needs to change and we need new, smart, and creative people working at these shelters and all the way up the hierarchy in order for things to change. Shelters must be held accountable for animals they take in, adopt, and euthanize. Those numbers need to be out for everyone in the community to see. Most people don’t want to know and will not look for the information. It wasn’t until the last few years and really through FB, that I have really come to understand what is going on out there. It is not pretty and I want people to know that and to demand that our shelters be a safe haven for animals. I believe this country loves its pets and animals and I believe that there are plenty of good people out there in the communities that would be willing to support this effort . . . the shelters just need to ask and make that commitment to be a NO KILL shelter.

  • Christine Beresford

    Spaying and neutering should be made law aswell as microchipping ,

  • danceswithwoofs

    This is why I have 20 cats and 7 ferals that live in my yard. I refuse to turn strays or ferals over to shelters as I know what will happen to them. So I have them fixed and spend all my money on cat food. I’m poor, but I have a clear conscience knowing that I have never sent an animal to their death just because no one wants it. And please SPAY and NEUTER your dogs and cats!! If you feed stray or feral cats, get them fixed!

  • Rsalba D’Agostino

    they like kill and keep money in the pocket! this world is full of selfish people ,heartless and evil !

  • Diana b.

    LOL, Crazy isn’t it.

  • Chavo Ramon

    Reality check here… Lets face it 1 min or so of suffering as apposed to weeks / months/ years in a cage with little stimulation or love this is not going to increase the adoption rate at shetlhers media like this just will get lots of comments…….. I am sorry but it is true. I have spent years working with animals both wild and domestic and this just upsets me… for crying out loud go protest at your local pet store or join an an animal group an be pro active. As the founder of WLF said so much writting but no action! Flippe Benivedies would turn in his grave… god bless him.

  • Chavo Ramon

    Try being a vet with a conscience in the 3rd world our street dog problem in mexico is well and truly out of control….. in mexico city we have millions thats right millions of street dogs and cats that are suffering every minute of every day.
    I am one of the few who realises that not every animal is going to find a loving home. Maybe some day those who live in a more developed country will come and help us here.

  • Kathy Hartnell

    WTh is wrong with this f@#$%^ up world look at these poor dog faces it sickening to see this we need a way to make someone even the President help put an end to all the killing of healthy dogs n cats.We should as americans should put our heads down because not enough of fight to save lives.I advocate for all dogs and cats to stop all these shelters from killing so many animals every day.I AM MAD HEAR ME ROAR…..

  • Susan Stelljes

    PETA is a kill facility. It’s ironic how they are trying to expose the horrors behind the scenes when the general public thinks they actually save animals.

  • guest

    Yes, neither option is good. My group does sponsor spay/neuter and protest at pet stores selling puppy mill “pure breds”. Sometimes it is discouraging but there is progress in some areas.

  • Amanda

    I highly disagree that media doesn’t make a difference. Media is the biggest subconscious driver psychologically in our society. It raises awareness and many many people are simply not aware of the reality of shelter animals and buy from breeders and pet shops instead. It is media that needs to bring attention to the mass consequences of each of these individual people buying from byb, breeders and overlooking shelter animals because of misconceptions they hav or those choosing not to spay or impulse buy. I never even knew the extent of shelter situations until I looked into it myself. Thats why I started fostering cats and will only adopt from shelters or rescue organizations if I decide to get my own animal. My family and friends who like animals are not aware of the shelter situation and how people contribute to it. In short, educating people always makes a difference, certainly not a vain attempt.

  • d

    People know more than they admit to, they simply don’t care. So many people don’t think twice about taking their animal to a shelter so it can find a new home!

  • Katherine Animales

    so sad

  • Edmund Hopper

    Some of these comments are pretty ridiculous..

  • Sadness

    It’s sad to see all these pets being killed.I hear people say all the time adopt from the SPCA and I’m sure a lot of people would adopt if they could. Problem is so many apartment complexes and condos do not allow pets.

  • denisa

    I agree!

  • Jojo

    This is extremely sad. I actually tear up thinking of the emotional pain a animal goes through because humans are so selfish and careless. I actually think a animals life is more innocent and valuable than a humans (I get a lot of hate for that, but let it be) Animals are so pure and innocent that everything they do is to survive. My dream is to one day make a law that will help animals; for example, make it illegal to breed animals where shelters are over populated, maybe that will help a bit (even though it will be ignored by many, at least it will stop some from breeding) Dogs and cats are meant to be loved and cared for not brought to this awful world to be abandoned and mistreated.

  • Alexander Kriticos

    How can they call it a shelter if all they do is euthanize these poor animals

  • worked2death

    So instead of letting them get adopted they charge you an arm and a leg and then if they don’t get them adopted on there high prices they kill them makes NO SENSE TO ME DOUBLE STANDARD I WOULD SAY

  • worked2death

    Well Maybe they need to take a good look at the many that were turned away from adopting. Maybe these people are right prices to high and they live in an apt ????? really I have lived in many apts and never once did I drop my fur-kid off because of living in an apt, I never rented where my dog wasn’t allowed that was the very first question I asked, and if they said no I hung up and moved to the one that allowed my pet.

  • worked2death

    YES lets start euthanize humans your so right there are to many stupid ones also get rid of them I believe they should euthanize people.