December 22, 2009

The Carbon “˜Pawprint’ Of Pets

According to a new study, the carbon pawprint of man's best friend is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports vehicle.

But pet owners are angered by the book "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living", saying they're being singled out as troublemakers.

The authors of this book, Robert and Brenda Vale from New Zealand, analyzed popular dog food brands and calculated that a medium-size dog eats around 360 pounds of meat a year.

Combine the land required to generate its food and a "medium" sized dog has an annual footprint of roughly 2.07 acres -- around twice the size required by a 4x4 driving 6,200 miles a year, including energy to build the car.

John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain, told AFP, "Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat."

Barrett calculated eco-prints based on his own data and found the results were essentially the same.

The Vales say other animals aren't much better for the environment.

Cats have an eco-footprint size slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year, while two hamsters equates to a plasma television and even the humble goldfish burns energy equivalent to two mobile telephones.

But Reha Huttin says believes differently.

"Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly," Huttin told AFP. The human impact of eliminating pets would be equally devastating, she added.

"Everyone should work out their own environmental impact. I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don't eat meat, so why shouldn't I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?" says Huttin.

Sylvie Comont told AFP, "Our animals give us so much that I don't feel like a polluter at all."

Comont has seven cats and two dogs, the environmental equivalent of a small fleet of cars.

"I think the love we have for our animals and what they contribute to our lives outweighs the environmental considerations. I don't want a life without animals," she told AFP.

The impact is just limited to carbon footprints. Over 188 million wildlife animals are being hunted or killed by feline predators. Disease is also being spread through the waterways, making water unsafe to drink.

The feces of a dog is causing high bacteria levels in streams, starving waterways of oxygen and killing aquatic life.

And cat poo can be even more toxic than doggy doo -- owners who flush their litter down the toilet ultimately infect sea otters and other animals with toxoplasma gondii, which causes a killer brain disease.

One solution to lower the negative impacts on the environment is to reduce pets' protein-rich meat intake.

Robert Vale says, "If pussy is scoffing 'Fancy Feast' -- or some other food made from choice cuts of meat -- then the relative impact is likely to be high. If, on the other hand, the cat is fed on fish heads and other leftovers from the fishmonger, the impact will be lower."

Other positive solutions are not walking your dog in wildlife-rich areas and keeping your cat inside at night when it has the urge to prowl for smaller animals.

People are encouraged to think about the environmental impact when getting a companion, just like you would when buying a car.

Get a hen, which offsets its impact by laying edible eggs, or a rabbit, prepared to make the ultimate environmental sacrifice by ending up on the dinner table.

"Rabbits are good, provided you eat them," said Robert Vale.


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