Louisa Beal, DVM
Today, October 15 2009, is Blog Action Day. Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. By doing so on the same day, the blogging community effectively changes the conversation on the web and focuses audiences around the globe on that issue. If you’re interested in finding more information, visit https://blogactionday.org and register your blog now to be part of the largest social change event on the web. Today, the topic is climate change. I feel it is the critical issue of our time and I want to put in my two cents worth.
There are three steps to changing the world: awareness, education and choices. Everything begins with awareness. Awareness is what brought you to read this blog. Awareness is what has most likely made you concerned enough to want to do something. Awareness is what prompts you to make the next step.
Education is the next step. So there is where I would like to give you some things to think about in regard to your pet’s carbon footprint. Using up the world’s resources is about what goes in and what comes out. Let’s look at what goes in, first.
Where does pet food come from? The majority of pet food is made by companies that produce products for human consumption. The pet food is a way for them to use materials that can’t go into human food. These are by-products, and they are listed on the pet food label as “by-products”. This can be good, since it is good to use everything possible rather than going into a landfill. But it can be not-so-good if we don’t know what is in the food. I teach a nutrition section in a veterinary assisting program, and one question I ask my students is “What are meat by-products?” The correct answer is “I don’t know.”
The other way manufacturers keep the cost of pet food low is to find the cheapest ingredients they can. This may involve buying ingredients from China. Not only did this result in a massive pet food recall in 2007, but think of all the miles those ingredients need to travel. Even when the company imports high quality ingredients like lamb from New Zealand or sea meal from Scotland, these items still have to travel thousands of miles, using a lot of fossil fuels. Your pet’s carbon footprint can increase by the bag of food you buy. So what if you decide to make your pet’s food with local ingredients? It isn’t as hard as it may sound. Many people cook for themselves. Cooking for your pet can be just as easy. Maybe easier, since our pets aren’t as picky as some of us are. Kidneys? Sure. Tripe? Yum! Two day old baked potato? Yes, thank you. People food is not a bad thing. Most people eat it. There are some things to keep in mind, though, if you want to feed your pet a homemade diet. Cats are obligate carnivores. They require animal protein in their diet. Don’t try to make them vegan. A veterinary nutritionist once told me that the best food for a cat was a mouse, if they ate it all. It has the muscle meat protein, it has greens all nicely predigested and it has the necessary calcium and phosphorus in the correct ratio. Keep that in mind when formulating a homemade diet for your cat. Even though dogs in the wild are scavengers, they also need the correct calcium phosphorus ratio. Don’t feed them just the muscle meat. Not only is that not a carbon-friendly food (unless you live on a beef ranch), but also it is imbalanced. Dogs need vegetables and fiber for vitamins and healthy digestion.
What else do our pets consume? Very little, compared to a human. Food bowls, toys, collars, harnesses and leashes, perhaps. Even these few things can have an impact. Consider where they originate. Items made in the US travel less than items made outside the country. It can be hard to find something that is not made in China, but it is possible. There are many artisans who make ceramic food bowls and leather leashes. Toys can be very simple and still fun. Consider getting stuffed toys from the thrift store. Just make sure the little swallow-able bits are removed. Got any old clothes that aren’t good enough for the thrift store? Braid, them, knot them and make a tug. You can even make a food puzzle out of a cardboard box or two.
OK, now what happens on the other end of the pet? We already know that picking up the waste is a good thing and keeps harmful bacteria and parasites out of our environment. But where does it go after we scoop? I direct you now to a website that considers all these alternatives. The Snohomish County Public Works web site has a frequently asked questions section titled Pet Waste Disposal Methods, The good, the bad, and the yucky. This site discusses several alternatives. So, which is best? In a plastic bag? In the trash? In the toilet? In a hole? In the compost?
Which leads me to the third step in the process of changing the world: choices. We are changing the world simply by being alive. How we are changing the world depends upon the choices we make. Choices result from not only how aware we are and how educated we are, but also from our priorities. For example, if your veterinarian recommends a prescription diet for you pet, you have a choice between following that recommendation and feeding something more sustainable for the planet. You also have a choice to feed something cheaper and more convenient. Whatever you choose, it will reflect your understanding and priorities.
I am not here to tell you what choices to make. Nor should you look at others and tell them what choices to make. It may be that they are not to the awareness stage yet. Trying to dictate to them what they should do will most likely backfire and close their minds. Think of it as changing a dog’s behavior. Force rarely works well. You lead by example and reward small increment to the behavior you want.
So, start with yourself. Become more aware of the issues. Educate yourself about what you can do. And make the best choices you can in your circumstance. Even if the things you do seem small and insignificant, you will never know all the ripples you produce. Let me close with a quote from one who did change the world.
“You may think your actions are meaningless and that they won’t help, but that is no excuse, you must still act.” – Mahatma Gandhi