Earlier this year, two sustainability advocates in New Zealand released a shocking new book: Time to Eat the Dog: the Real Guide to Sustainable Living. The authors, Robert and Brenda Vale, don’t actually condone eating our canine friends; the book merely assesses the huge impact they have on the environment. A medium sized dog, for example, has an ecological footprint of 0.84 hectares, more than twice that of an SUV (although the book does ignore the fact that most dog foods are made from the leftovers of ordinary meat and grain processing, which would otherwise go to waste). The authors propose that in order to be sustainable we should focus our resources on “useful pets” such as chickens, and ditch our relatively useless dogs and cats.
While it is undeniable that pets can have a negative impact, many people like me find it impossible to imagine living in a world without them. Over the years, we have bred dogs and cats to rely almost entirely on humans, and we now have an obligation to care for them. Pets are also beneficial for humans, providing services such as guarding houses and livestock, aid for the disabled, and, most importantly, companionship.
Eating our pets seems like a radical idea to me. Fortunately, it is easy to make your pets environmentally friendly. Here are just a few of the ways to reduce the ecological footprint of man’s best friend:
1) Choose your pet’s diet carefully. Most cheap dog foods contain waste meats and grains, and are extremely unhealthy for the animal. Instead of buying processed food, you can feed your pets a “raw diet,” just like their cousins dine on every day. Your dog will require a lot less food, because he won’t be eating fillers. If you buy local meats, you will be supporting the economy as well as the environment. Just don’t forget that dogs also need plant material – vegetables, fruits and calcium – in order to stay healthy. Consult your veterinarian to ensure your pets get the nutrition they need.
2) A raw diet is not for every dog. Animals with compromised immune systems, for example, cannot handle the bacteria in raw meat. If you are concerned about health, or unwilling to feed Fido raw meat, look for a local or green pet food business. For more information on buying environmentally friendly pet food, visit The Green Guide. In Durango, Zuke’s offers a wide variety of healthy and all-natural treats for dogs and cats.
3) Toys, beds, blankets, shampoos, and everything else your dog needs to be happy are also available in environmentally friendly forms. Some online lists of green toys are GreatGreenPet.com and OliveGreenDog.com. Better yet, find a local store that makes and sells dog toys, or make your own.
4) Adopt pets from animal shelters, and always spay or neuter them. There are millions of animals in shelters around the country, and although puppies may be adorable, breeding your animals just contributes to the pet overpopulation problem.
5) Pets can be devastating for local wildlife. Teach dogs not to attack small animals, and keep them on a leash whenever they’re away from the yard. Clean up after your dog on walks, and dispose of the waste in biodegradable bags. Finally, bells attached to your pet’s collar work as excellent intruder warnings for small animals.
Dogs may have a negative impact on the environment, but that’s no reason to go out and destroy them. Even a dog, at 0.83 hectares, has a smaller global footprint than a human – the average estimate for the United States is 9.7 hectares per person!
– Liz Grogan