It struck me as I was prepping our recycling and rubbish for collection how well we were doing with decreasing our non-recyclable trash (yay!) but also how much of the remainder is doggy doo. Nasty business, but part and parcel of having fabulous furry family members (you can meet them here and here). This got me thinking about pets, their environmental impact, and what we could strive for going forward to help reduce our family's environmental "pawprint". Here is our status in some of the key areas of concern as well as ideas moving forward. Suggestions and interesting green pet readings are very welcome in the comments or on our Facebook page.
I might as well start this at the end! Poop is my biggest concern regarding our "pawprint". We switched to recycled paper pellet kitty litter long ago - our cat loves it and will actually refuse to use the other types (yes...we learned this the hard way). We always pick-up after our dogs using biodegradable poo bags. Scooping has always been a must as a matter of courtesy and hygiene to the public and our neighbours - I had never considered the environmental implications of the naughty non-scoopers and contamination of nearby waterways. Ick! Special poo composting or septic treatment could be alternatives to rubbish, but our boys generate a lot of poop and we have an urban yard, so space is pretty limited and we wouldn't want to create any issues with our neighbours. I had never heard of a flushable dog poo bag before my research - I am not sure that our system would be able handle that (did I mention how much these dogs poop?!?), but will look into it further. If you have used any of the alternative doo-disposal options, I would love to hear from you!
I have historically given little thought to the "pawprint" of our pets' diets, focusing instead on the quality, content, and health implications of their food. For personal reasons, I converted to a vegetarian diet some time ago and hubby also limits his consumption, but our pets are fed a pretty traditional diet. Our elderly dog is on a special prescription kibble, but both the younger dog and the cat eat seafood-based kibbles. Supplemental foods tend to be fish and chicken, with a combination of bought and handmade treats. They are quality foods and working well for them health-wise, but I will invest more consideration in what we give them particularly as treats, including increasing our healthier homemade options. Healthy helps with fewer greenhouse gas laden dog farts (win-win for EVERYONE!).
We are conscious of the risks that pets can pose to wildlife. Our cat isn't allowed to wander freely outside (yes...cat on a harness!) and the areas in which our dogs are walked are pretty quiet, other than occasional (much quicker) bunnies and birds, and we respect leash-only and prohibited areas. In addition to being kept securely at home and under control when out and about, our pets are all desexed, registered, and micro-chipped. How absolutely heartbreaking that shelter euthanasia is one of the pet-related environmental impact issues. So very sad.
Grooming isn't a significant factor in our household. The cat enjoys being brushed and is otherwise low maintenance. Our dogs are short-haired and generally don't need more than brushing and nail clipping. When they do get into something smelly/messy or otherwise need a scrub, we already use carefully selected products due to skin sensitivities.
Other than occasional bandanas and specialty item like winter warmers, we don't really dress our pets and the items that we do have last a very long time. The same is true for essentials like their collars and leads, which we buy for durability/strength and are very well-used. Anything that outgrown or unsuited is given to charity. Toys, however, are an area in which we need to do better, both in the materials from which they are made and their durability. I do have a "toy hospital" basket where torn stuffed items are placed to await restiching, but most of their toys tend to be pretty disposable. Even supposedly robust toys don't survive very long with two big dogs, one of whom is still a boisterous puppy. Ideas welcome! There are a few VERY well-loved hard-wearing chew/squeeze toys, but nothing soft survives for long so I plan on making more of those types of toys myself and using scrap/leftover or recycled materials where feasible.
Not having pets simply isn't a consideration for our family, irrespective of their impact. It is said that "the best therapists have four paws" and I have no doubt that this is true. Personally, we find that their influence on the family footprint probably outweighs their individual "pawprints" - for example, we have discovered that we tend to travel much less and eat at home far more often than we would if we had no pets. We also walk and explore significantly more than we would without the dogs - no matter what the weather. And on the subject of weather, pets make excellent hot-water bottles on chilly nights. :)
- http://www.simpleecology.com/eco/dog-waste-containment (I particularly liked the honestly of the failed flush trial.)
Update: We have a growing collection of greener living pet pins on Pinterest. Let us know if you have suggestions for us to explore!