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In a Flash

North Carolina photo project helps boost rural shelter adoptions

All Animals magazine, November/December 2014

by Ruthanne Johnson

  • A dog named Rhett poses for his portrait. Shannon Johnstone/For The HSUS

  • A few friendly felines snuggle up for a catnap. Shannon Johnstone/For The HSUS

  • A husky mix frolics in the open space outside his kennel. Shannon Johnstone/For The HSUS

  • A cat takes a break from playing to pose for the camera.  Shannon Johnstone/For The HSUS

Last December, HSUS state director Kim Alboum and photographer Shannon Johnstone hit the road during a rare southern snowstorm to visit eight rural shelters throughout North Carolina.

Their intention: to highlight often-forgotten shelters through Johnstone’s compelling photos. These shelters are doing exceptional things, like getting rid of gas chambers and combatting terrible animal cruelty. And even the little details the pair saw along the way told a big story: spotless enclosures, hairbrushes zip-tied to the sides of cat enclosures for rubbing pleasure and kitty condos made from cardboard boxes.

“There are so many amazing people in these little rural shelters with virtually no resources,” says Alboum. “And nobody was telling their story.”

The road trip was part of the North Carolina Shelter Project—a collaborative effort among advocacy groups, including The HSUS, to increase support and visitations for rural shelters in the state. In February, Johnstone’s photos were exhibited in Raleigh to a turnout of 200 people. Shelters received $500 from proceeds and donations such as food, toys and cleaning supplies. A second exhibit was scheduled for October.

Photographer Shannon Johnstone has been using images like these to help promote rural shelters in North Carolina. Shannon Johnstone/For The HSUS

During the photo shoots, Johnstone tried to capture the shelters’ spirit by focusing on the natural light and interactions between staff and animals. “I wanted to see where people walk into the shelter,” she says, “where the dogs live and where they leave.”

It worked. Shelters and participating organizations posted the photos on social media sites, boosting adoption interest. Rescue groups took in dogs, cats and even a potbellied pig after attending the event.

There was Jax, a little brown dog adopted from the Stokes County Animal Shelter by a friend of Johnstone’s in Arizona after she posted his photo on Facebook. And Tank, a wounded stray cat adopted the day after Chatham County Animal Shelter shared his photo.

And then there was Bill, a lovable American bulldog-boxer mix with a basketball-sized head and tank-like body who had been at the Chatham shelter for four months. He, too, was adopted the day after shelter director Leigh Anne Garrard posted his photos in late February.

“We had 27 animals adopted directly from the shelter during that event [and] 18 animals … pulled by rescue groups,” says Garrard. “This event was a lifesaving benefit to us.”

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