Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fido’s Footprint

Anyone who’s been to the greenmomster’s home knows that we’re dog people.  When you’re visiting, the dogs will greet you, and you will probably share the couch with a dog or two.  The dogs “own” a specific section of the backyard, and we know all the otherDSC_0018 dog owners in the neighborhood by their dogs’ names.  We love our pups!  According to the Humane Society of the U.S., approximately 39% of American households have at least one dog, leading to 78.2 million dogs owned as pets in the U.S.  Up until recently, when we’ve had to put two of our beloved dogs to sleep, our household was one of the 12% of dog owning households with three or more dogs.  Now we’re graced with just two pooches, putting us in the 28% of dog owners with two dogs – still on the wagging tail of that bell curve.

We know that people have “environmental footprints” (the impact of our daily living on various aspects of the environment), but what about Fido’s footprint?  How do our dogs affect the environment and how can we decrease their impact on the environment?  In the book, Time to Eat the Dog, A Real Guide to Sustainable Living by Thames and Hudson (full disclosure, I have not read this book), the authors have been reported to claim that a pet dog’s carbon footprint is double that of an SUV, because dogs are carnivores.  Remember, we know from earlier posts that eating high on the food chain does, in fact, lead to higher CO2 emissions, because of the way our food is produced.   That said, the statement about Fido’s footprint being greater than an SUV has led to a lively discussion on the internet.  An article in the Daily Green disputed this conclusion on both qualitative and quantitative grounds.  The Daily Green writers claim that the actual calculation of the amount of food eaten by an average dog is off by about double, and they state that because dog food is actually made up of scraps and byproducts of the meat industry, the impact of their carnivorous diet is lower than calculated. 

Regardless of the actual numbers, since dogs are carnivores they’re going to have an impact on the environment based on their diets.  What about other impacts?  Dog waste is often cited as a source of nutrient runoff to lakes and streams (10,000,000 tons of poop annually as estimated by webvet.com), and wrapping dog waste in non-biodegradable plastic bags just adds to the waste problem.  In order to keep our dogs free of fleas and ticks, we often use chemicals to kill the insects – how should we dispose of these products and are there any environmentally friendly alternatives? 

Since I don’t know of anyone willing to get rid of his or her dogs for the sake of sustainability, here are a few tips for making Fido’s footprint a little smaller:

  • Natural and organic pet foods decrease environmental impacts in the same way that organic human foods do – check out treehugger’s list of 10 Natural and Organic Pet Foods.  Our dogs really like the California Naturals brand of dog food.
  • Always pick up pet waste and put it in a biodegradable bag
  • Spay or neuter your dog to avoid unwanted offspring (according to the Humane Society, 4 million unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized annually)
  • Instead of plastic toys, try hemp toys.
  • I’ve never had an excess of flea or tick products (the containers are so small, we don’t have leftovers), but if you do, dispose of all flea and tick products properly.  Check with your local wastewater treatment plant for instructions on disposal. 
  • Always recycle empty dog food cans or other pet food containers.
  • Try to use veterinarians, dog parks, groomers, and pet stores within walking distance – take Fido for a walk and get your errands done without any fossil fuel emissions!
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning supplies.  As stated in campingroadtrip.com, “The phosphates used in cleaning products such as stain removers and other products are harmful to our environment and health. High phosphate levels can kill life in our rivers, lakes, and streams. This is a real concern and efforts have been made to curb phosphate use. Next time your animal has an accident on the carpet or floor, you might think twice about traditional cleaners.”  Many natural and enzymatic cleaners exist today and they work well – trust me, I had four dogs Smile

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