I love animals – there’s no doubt about that. I’m the type of person who is willing to capture a spider and release it back outside instead of just using a Kleenex to swiftly finish the job, who feels sorry for the worms stuck on the pavement after it rains, and who tried to let the crabs escape when her family went crab-fishing when she was younger.
I especially love my fluffy, yappy Pomeranian, Jamoca.
So when I began hearing about domestic pets’ large carbon footprints, of course I resisted at first. Jamoca is so adorable and perfect (except for the occasional accident on the carpet), how can she have any effect on carbon emissions?
But according to BBC, the average cat contributes to 0.5 tons of CO2 a year, while the average dog contributes to 1.5 tons a year. When I finally pushed my strong bias for animals aside, I realized pets contribute to carbon emissions in many of the same ways people do – mainly through food and waste.
Dogs and cats need food, and most of the dry kibble Fido eats is made from leftover materials meat industries don’t want, meat from cows that are dead, dying, diseased, or disabled. The large meat industries that bring us our cheap beef also create a lot of waste and carbon dioxide simply by the way they raise their livestock. For more information about the environmental impacts of the meat industry, you can read my earlier post http://greenliving4all.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/saving-the-world-one-veggie-at-a-time/
Some people advocate putting pets on a vegetarian diet. I personally find this solution a little extreme. Dogs and cats, after all, are naturally carnivores. But you can still put your pet on a healthier, more natural meat-based diet. Organic pet foods made with meat raised in sustainable ways without growth hormones or antibiotics are easy to find at pet stores, if you are willing to spend the extra money. Or, you can make your own pet food, so you have complete control over what goes into it. http://www.simplypets.com/pet-recipes/Dog/Meal is a useful website for recipes. But before you feed your furry friend homemade food regularly, make sure your talk to your veterinarian first to ensure your pet gets the nutrition it needs.
Okay so we’ve now talked about what goes into your pets…now we have to talk about what comes out.
According to Mark Klaiman in the article “Litter and the Environment,” most kitty litter is made from clay. This clay must be strip-mined, disturbing large areas of land. The clay then must be transported and processed, which requires more energy resources. Finally, when the litter ends up in landfills it just sits there forever.
The best alternative is to use biodegradable kitty litter. Old shredded newspaper works well too. For directions on making your own cat litter, visit http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/08/diy-newspaper-cat-litter.php.
Dog waste is a little more difficult to manage. But first, obviously, pick it up! Not only is this polite (your fellow citizens will be very grateful!), but this prevents harmful bacteria from contaminating local waterways. But what do you do after you pick it up?
Most people use plastic bags and then throw them in the trash. But like with clay kitty litter, the waste sits in landfills for basically eternity. One alternative is to flush it down the toilet where it will get treated in a sewage plant. Using biodegradable plastic bags also helps somewhat.
The best alternative, though, is to compost your pet waste. There are two main ways to do this. The first method is called trenching, which basically means you bury the pet waste underground to provide nutrients for garden plants. However, you should only plant ornamental plants above the trench, never vegetables or fruits. For directions on how to trench, visit http://www.compost.bc.ca/learn/factsheets/5Trenching.pdf.
The second method is to build your own dog waste composter. All you really need is an old garbage can, some rocks, and septic starter. For step by step directions, visit http://homepage.mac.com/cityfarmer/PhotoAlbum22.html. Choose a sunny site that is away from vegetable gardens and waterways. This composter is actually good for both dog waste and biodegradable kitty litter. Collect the pet waste and drop it into the composter. Sprinkle two of the packets of septic tank starter on top of the pet waste and about a quart of water. Cover the hole with the lid. After 48 hours you can add more pet waste. You can then begin to add it daily.
From what goes in to what goes out, making our pets more green takes effort. But then again, isn’t that just another way to show our love? According to BBC, some scientists warn small heartworms that kill dogs and cats are on the rise in some areas due to warmer and wetter summers.