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A photographer's crusade to record the dignity of doomed shelter dogs

Wally Santana / AP

Photographer Tou Chih-kang calms a puppy as he tries to make a portrait before it is put down by lethal injection at a shelter in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. All photos taken in April 2012 and made available to msnbc.com on July 5, 2012.

Wally Santana / AP

Tou Chih-kang hangs his portraits of the final moments in the lives of shelter dogs for a public exhibition in Taoyuan.

Over the past two years, Taiwanese photographer Tou Chih-kang has recorded the last moments of some 400 dogs, most of which were abandoned by their owners, at the Taoyuan animal shelter.

The Associated Press reports on Tou's work:

The dogs come in all sizes and shapes. Some are young and active, others grizzled, listless and battered. After Tou photographs them, veterinary workers take them for a brief turn around a grassy courtyard before leading them into a small, clinical-looking room where they are killed by lethal injection.

His photographs are redolent of the kind of formal portraits - of people - that were taken 100 years ago, designed to bestow dignity and prestige upon the subject.

Tou's aim is to raise awareness of animal rights in a country where an estimated 80,000 stray dogs will be euthanized this year. In an artist's statement posted alongside a web gallery of his photographs, he says:

In viewing these specific images, one looks directly into the eyes of the dog and the dog looks back. These images reflect the last opportunity to look. This is a final and decisive moment. Death is eminent [sic] and all that is asked of the viewer is to engage, to recognize the common bonds and to honor the resemblances between our lives.

Wally Santana / AP

Tou Chih-kang greets a dog scheduled to be euthanized later in the day at a government-run shelter in Taoyuan.

Wally Santana / AP

Tou Chih-kang tries to make a portrait of a puppy in a makeshift studio.

Wally Santana / AP

Tou Chih-kang and his assistant steady a scared dog for a portrait in the final moments of its life.

Wally Santana / AP

Tou Chih-kang hangs his dog portraits for a public exhibition in Taoyuan.