There are 7.5 billion people in the world and an estimated 525 million dogs (cat population estimates are too “fudged” to have value). Approximately 86.4 million cats and 78.2 million dogs call America home. And they all have a significant environmental impact.
There are environmentalists who would prefer that we not keep pets. However, many psychologists and sociologists believe this might cause significant harm to people, as individuals, and as a species. This is because our bond with animals brings a host of psychological benefits. For instance, therapy dogs are increasingly allowed in care homes and even hospitals to bring comfort to patients. They also help severely autistic children learn empathy and teach them how to communicate.
Furthermore, for many of us, our pets are the only link to the non-human world. Losing them might alienate us from nature entirely. And, let’s face it, increasing our alienation to the natural world is not exactly going to help in the battle to make people care more about the environment.
Food for earth-friendly pets
Pet food is the single biggest contributor to pets’ environmentally un-friendly status. Dogs and cats need meat. There’s nothing you can do about that, but the source of that meat is of paramount importance.
It all boils down to efficiency: the fewer calories required to make an animal gain weight, the more environmentally-friendly the meat is. So you’re going to want to make sure that you avoid slow-gaining meat.
The worst culprit in this category is beef, particularly feedlot beef. Mutton and lamb are better, goat is better still, and pork is the best of the red meats. In general, poultry is preferable to any meat from mammal sources. Ostrich is a low-impact poultry, but chicken and turkey are also good, with free-range being better than feedlot-fed, for obvious reasons.
A new tech development you should be keeping an eye on is the ground-breaking Memphis Meats, which cultures lab-grown meats. It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but these are rapidly falling in price (fallen by 80% since first introduced), have minimal environmental impact, are extremely healthy (no cross-contamination from the slaughtering process, no diseases or parasites). They will probably come to supermarkets near you fairly shortly.
You can also buy your pet food in bulk so that you use less packaging per meal.
Toys, collars and so forth
For their collars and chew toys, etc., try and locate recyclable materials. It’s also better to obtain a good, well-made collar or harness that will last your pet’s lifetime than to buy a cheap but shoddy version that will only last a year or so.
Resist the urge to spoil your pet. Don’t buy elaborate cat runs or unnecessary toys. Most dogs and cats have a favorite toy anyway, and tend to stick to one or two toys. You don’t need expensive hunks of plastic cluttering up your house for years and never being used.
Take the time and research companies online who will deliver to your house, such as Cycle Dog. Believe it or not, online shopping is more environmentally-friendly than getting into a car and going to a store (the delivery guy was probably driving through your neighborhood anyway).
If you use wood (which is better than plastic!) use fast-growing and sustainable woods like pine or bamboo. Slow-growth woods such as cedar, oak and mahogany, are to be avoided at all costs. Better yet, get yourself down to the nearest warehouse or freight yard and ask if they have any pallets lying around and make your own beds, kennels and so forth. Pallet wood is generally fast-growth and you’ll give it a second life.
Play and exercise
Do you really have to drive your dog to the dog park? Think about it. Try and find some place which is an easy walk away. More people with dogs on the street tends to have a deterrent effect on crime, as well as being easier on the planet.
The environmental crisis is, sadly, worsening, and action by governments is simply going to take too long to have enough of an effect in time. But seven billion people, making daily choices which help this beautiful little world we have been entrusted with, can and will make a rapid and lasting difference. And we pet owners are (or at least should be) more determined than most. Enjoy your animal friends responsibly, and maybe you’ll help make it possible for your descendants to do so, too.