Making Man’s Best Friend More Eco-Friendly

by Savannah Mazda

The bond between dog and dog owner is a unique and special one. For many people, there is nothing better than coming home after a long day to a wagging tail and a furry face that is happy to see you. But just how environmentally friendly are our canine friends? Is it possible to both live green and own a dog? There are steps that can be taken in order to lessen our pooches’ impact on the environment, even for urban apartment-dwellers like myself. I also interviewed three urban dog-owners, Cecelia, Kacie, and Lissa, who gave me insights on how they care for their animals.

Dogs, while being fairly simple creatures, can have a negative impact on the environment, particularly when it comes to two points, their food and their waste. Dogs are omnivores, and need both meat and vegetables in order to have a rich, nutritious diet. The problem, of course, is that meat has an extremely negative environmental impact on the planet (latimes.com). Most dog owners don’t feed their dogs fresh meat, but some sort of kibble or can, or in the case of Sadie, a mid-sized rescue from a high-kill shelter who shares an apartment with her human Cecelia in NYC, they might have dog food rolls, a meat log which provides a lot of nutrition. According to Cecelia, she won’t eat dry food because, “she’s a delicate Princess and it hurts her dainty mouth.” While we want our fluffy companions to be comfortable, the unfortunate fact is that the meat in dog food contributes to a lot of methane being produced (latimes.com).

The answer? Well, don’t panic about not being able to find vegan dog food, because you can make a major difference just by switching your dog to a food that is made with chicken or rabbit, rather than beef, lamb, or other red meats. Chicken and rabbit produce much less methane than red meat, and it’s often fairly easy to find well-known commercial foods that come in these varieties (latimes.com). For example, Lissa, the owner of Molly, a sweet small breed who charms everyone she meets, feeds her dog Blue Buffalo. In their Wilderness line, they offer a rabbit option, as do many other main-brand dog foods (bluebuffalo.com). Kacie, who owns Ripley, a small breed in Queens, gives her dog a food comprised of pheasant, which is also a big improvement on red meat based foods.

We can also reduce the amount of methane produced in general by reducing our own meat consumption in order to let our dogs have a little more. Hey, who said that friendship doesn’t come with a little sacrifice? Overall, it’s easy to make feeding our dog just a little greener by taking a few simple steps, such as researching chicken and rabbit foods, and cutting back on the meat grilling ourselves!

One of the major issues with having a domestic dog is waste disposal. When you throw away dog faeces, there are multiple factors at work. Dog waste left on the streets ends up, “washed down storm drains into streams and the ocean, fueling toxic algae blooms that suck up oxygen and turning coastal habitats into dead zones,” and even when picked up (which Cecelia, Kacie, and Lissa all do), thrown out faeces emits methane, and adds significantly to trash pollution (latimes.com). I know, it’s shocking, because I as a dog owner thought I was doing the right thing by scooping up my dogs’ leaving with a plastic bag and throwing it in the trash. Then there’s the added factor of the plastic bags themselves.

I thought I was being green by saving and reusing any plastic bags I had in order to clean up waste, but actually the plastic bags contribute to pollution as well (ecowatch.com), which means that every time we scoop up and throw away dog faeces, we’re contributing to methane production, and plastic pollution. Cecelia, Sadie’s human, and Kacie, Ripley’s human, both use biodegradable bags designed especially for the purpose, which certainly helps, but the questions remains, just what can we do in order to deal with the Poop Problem?

First off, we can do exactly what we do with our own waste: flush it away! By flushing, you’re ensuring that the waste won’t end up in a dump, and also won’t end up contaminating a water source, which can have a serious impact on local wildlife because dog faeces contains toxins, as well as diseases which could adversely affect the lives of both plants and animals (latimes.com). The problem with flushing, of course, is it contributes to water waste, but as indelicate as it may seem, following the saying of, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down,” may be the answer in order to combat any extra water usage.

If you’re lucky enough (unlike most of us urban-dwellers) to have an outside living space, you can get rid of your dog’s waste even more efficiently. The simplest way to do it without purchasing anything new, is to bury it in your yard at least a foot deep, beneath the run-off zone, avoiding any vegetable patches you might have (latimes.com). Of course, who has the time to dig a new hole for every piece of waste, and I know I certainly wouldn’t want to save it up somewhere for a weekly deposit. Better than the hole-in the ground trick though, is the device which might change the way we think of pet waste disposal as whole, the Doggie Dooley (doggiedooley.com).

The Doggie Dooley is something between a septic tank and a composting system for dog waste (note: any kind of animal excrement can NOT go on your ordinary compost pile). It’s a small, relatively inexpensive canister that is installed fairly simply and can be done yourself. It then functions like a septic system, using water and purification tablets to eliminate the toxic parts of the waste and break down the rest. Once installed, you just have to add a new tablet and some water every now and then (doggydooley.com). This solution is less ideal for apartment-dwellers, but in my opinion an absolutely fantastic idea for anyone with access to an outside space.

Overall, our pooches do have an impact on the environment, but the love and support they provide is incomparable. According to Lissa, Molly’s human, “She is such a joy to have in my life. Her cuddles take away all the stress.” Cecelia felt similarly, saying of her dog, “Sadie is the light of my life, I love this stupid creature so much. She eats my shoes, pees on the floor, eats questionable things off the sidewalk…she is a jerk and I adore her.” Kacie said of Ripley, “She forces me to get outside more…I’ve gotten to know the green spaces in my neighborhood…she is adorable and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to hang out with.” My own dogs, Muppet and Daisy, are fun and fluffy and I love them to distraction, and so as a dog owner, it’s my job to try and be as green as possible so I can keep on experiencing the joy of canine companionship. Even just a little step makes a difference.

In my opinion, a Doggy Dooley is the absolute best option, although if you don’t have a yard it’s unreality. However, we can take the time to write to our local councilmen and see if they can be installed in dog parks, since they’re both cost-effective and green. As an apartment-dweller, it would seem that the best option is to use biodegradable bags and flush. While it may be a little inconvenient to carry the waste home, flush it, and then throw away the bag, even just these few simple changes could really help reduce the environmental impact dogs are having on the world. After all, I know I personally couldn’t imagine a life without dogs, and I wouldn’t want to. Besides, we’re not just trying to save the planet for us, we’re saving it for them too.

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