Sustainability and Pets

By Kathleen Anderson on Jul 06, 2015 at 10:01 AM in For Labs and Modalities

In a sustainable living model, everything has to have a useful purpose, a positive contributing factor in the cycle of life.

So, a truly sustainable pet offers a product or service. While pets like chickens (eggs), goats (milk) and horses (transportation) may be the most obviously sustainable pets, the reason most people choose a pet is to love and be loved. In fact, research over the last 25 years has shown that unconditional pet love actually can lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety.

Still, domestic cats and dogs generate a lot of waste.
For the American Public University System’s Sustainability Committee, Jennifer Lefebvre writes, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average dog generates approximately 275 pounds of waste per year.  According to The Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 77 million dog owners in the United States, and almost 94 million cat owners. If left outside, bacteria and viruses from this waste can be washed into our waterways.”
And research done by authors Brenda and Robert Vale found that “a dog’s carbon paw print was twice that of a Toyota Land Cruiser being driven 6,213 miles a year. A cat’s eco paw print was slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf, and keeping two hamsters is the same as owning a plasma TV.”

Nell Newman, founder of Newman’s Own Organics and a long time animal lover and trained ornithologist, is an advocate of animal health.

She told me recently, citing a 11/22/11 New York Times Sunday Magazine story about the overbreeding of bull dogs, that breeding dogs is not sustainable.

She suggests doing your homework before bringing your pet home to be sure it will be appropriate for your home and lifestyle. Nell was compelled to introduce pet food as one of her company’s first products in 1993 to help keep pets healthy. She says, “You should be concerned about what you’re feeding your pets. If you’re eating well, your pet should eat well, too.”

Most eco-pet solutions are just that simple: eat right, exercise, use natural cleaners, and avoid too many plastic pet accessories. In a recent issue of The Bark Magazine, the editors jokingly suggest collecting 40 ounces of your dog’s fur and spinning it into yarn in order to make a sweater!

Chickens may be the most sustainable pets we can have.

Chicken lady Patricia Foreman, author of “City Chicks” and “Backyard Market Gardening,” says chickens are nature’s composters. She puts them to work in chicken tractors and they provide a consistent supply of nutritious eggs. She says that chickens, especially breeds like Buff Orpingtons are friendly and like to be held and petted. Nell Newman’s oldest hen, Betty, is 12 years old and keeps up well with the younger chickens.

Gardens benefit from animal manure from chickens, rabbits and horses, but not from dog and cat manure. In fact, cat litter is not recyclable and ends up in the landfill.

The Bark Magazine editors also suggest building your own Pet Waste Digester, an easy, practical and admirable  DIY (Do It Yourself) project. It works like a mini septic system and most importantly, it keeps the pet waste out of the ocean and it eliminates (!) all the plastic bags that are usually used to dispose of the waste. (See a link to directions below.)

Besides the manure, I wondered what environmental good our pet rabbits presented. They don’t provide food, they don’t work in the garden. Then one day, I happened to see a robin fly up to a tree with a clump of bunny fur in her beak, to build her nest. Sometimes we have to look for the connectedness to sustainability in life, but it’s there.

With some extra care, we can enjoy the love of our wonderful pets while contributing to a greener world. As Patricia Foreman says, “First you get chickens. Then you fall in love.”

For more information:

Build your own Pet Waste Digester Instructions

Learn more about chickens

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